CHICAGO — An international fellowship is bringing one Lincoln Park High School junior closer to her cultural heritage, eventually leading to a three-week trip overseas.
Liel Hagen-Dokarker, 16, is one of 20 Chicago high school students chosen by the Jewish United Fund to participate in the Diller Teen Fellows, a 15-month program focusing on Jewish identity and social justice projects that includes a trip to Israel.
Hagen, who was born in Norway before moving to Chicago in 2009, said she's looking forward to connecting to her roots and incorporating the skills she learns with her fellow Diller students into her own life.
"I had my bat mitzvah [in 2011] and honestly it was one of the best experiences of my life," Hagen said. "I feel like I finally found my place."
That place fits well into what Hagen describes as a "pretty international" family. Her mother currently lives in Norway and her father, who was born in India before moving to Israel at a young age, lives in Lakeview.
Hagen has cousins and several other family members who still live in Israel, she said — all of whom she'll get to spend time with as part of the Diller Fellowship.
In addition to her work as a teacher's assistant, the high school junior is involved in Jewish Club and a book club at Lincoln Park high school and will find out if she's been accepted into school's photography club Tuesday, she said.
In the spring, Chicago's Diller fellows will have an opportunity to host their Israeli peers in Chicago before they travel to Israel for a joint seminar next summer.
"It's really diverse — I love the people who got accepted," Hagen said of her fellow cohorts. "It's a really diverse group with different backgrounds and a lot of different views and perspectives."
The Diller program began in 1997, and has grown to include 10 North American/Israeli partnerships. The program has since graduated more than 2,000 teens.