BY JILL ABEL
The Israel Partnership was in full swing this summer as in late June and early July, the Jacksonville Jewish community was host to four teens and one chaperone from our partnership city of Hadera. It was an incredibly busy two weeks of learning and fun for the teens and included stops at local Jewish camps, trips to theme parks in Orlando as well as exploring the city where they were staying.
During their visit, the group worked with campers at the Jacksonville Jewish Center’s Camp Ki Tov, the Jewish Community Alliance’s Camp Sabra and Theater Camps as well as Etz Chaim’s Camp Sheves Achim. Together they shared music, dance, art and cooking from our homeland with all of the kids from Jacksonville.
“I really wanted to help make a small change for the kids here because Israel is thousands of miles away so that’s why I wanted to show them a little part of Israel," said partnership participant Priscila Sennes. "I answered their questions and gave them a different point of view of our country.”
The Israeli teens enjoyed their time working in the different camps and were happy to know that the kids in return enjoyed spending time with them.
“I wanted to leave something for the kids because they were both happy and sad," fellow trip participant Ariel Reznik said. "Happy that we had been there but sad that we were leaving so I knew we had left a part of us with them.”
One evening during their stay, the teens and their American hosts visited with the residents at The Coves at River Garden. Rabbi Matthew Cohen of Congregation Ahavath Chesed and Hazzan Jessie Holzer of the Jacksonville Jewish Center accompanied the teens in a wide variety of Jewish music both in Hebrew and in English. The residents sang along with the teens and especially enjoyed sharing good, quality conversation with them following the program.
In addition to working in the camps, attending services at three local synagogues for Shabbat and singing at River Garden, the American and Israeli teens explored Jacksonville with visits to MOSH, Yes You Canvas, the Ponte Vedra Inn, Sweet Pete’s, the Avenues Mall, Latitude 30 and even made a special day trip to Universal Studios in Orlando. Through their interactions, the Israeli teens were able to learn about what life is like as an American teenager.
As a group, both the Americans and the Israelis learned about the real meaning of our Israeli Partnership with Hadera-Eiron and they uncovered the special connection that we all share as Jewish people. “This program makes the connection between Israeli and diaspora Jews stronger," explained Israeli teen Hadar Matana. "We live our lives in different ways and I find it so interesting to learn about those differences because the Temples are so different - even the way people dress is different, so it's great to learn about.”
Logan Sims, a first-time Jacksonville host teen said, “I learned that even though we were a world apart, nothing cut us off from being friends because being Jewish connected us in a special way to the point of where we could sing together and speak without having awkward moments. I think that connection is going to continue for the years to come," he added.
“You should go to Israel as an American Jew so you can see how Jews live there and make connections with the people over there," said Levana Osher, another Jacksonville host teen. Osher traveled to Israel through the Israel Partnership's Tikkun Olam program two summers ago and feels that the connections she has made with Israeli teens through this program are deep and long lasting.
Iris and Mark Kraemer hosted the final gathering of the friendly bunch at their home. While there, the teens, both American and Israeli shared insights into life in America and the similarities and differences between our two countries.
One of those differences was discovered by Sennes, who said, “I've noticed at synagogues that women are more treated like men. That was a bit of a culture shock as I was able to read in front of the Torah," she explained. Sennes' friend Hadar Matana could not get over how polite the people in Jacksonville were as she said, "You don't just smile at people in Israel - there is no reason to do that.”
While many of the teens noted differences, Sims shed light on the similarities. “I liked seeing how alike we were in our personalities and humor," he said. "It was very easy to get along with Ariel, but it was astounding to know that there was another Jewish teenager across the planet who looks more closely related to my family than I do," he added.
Nili Trabelsi, the Israeli chaperone for the delegation was so touched by the warmth of the people in the local community because she couldn’t believe that people would open their homes and share themselves so freely.
“We have something so strong in common. It doesn't matter that we don't speak the same language because we are all brothers and sisters which is why it is so strong," she explained. "We might not have felt it before but we feel it so much now.”
When Israeli Hadar Matana was asked when it was that she first loved America, she said, “I think it is hard to love a place that you have never been to but I can now say that after I have been here, I do love America.”
And that love was shared with American teens alike as Jacksonville's Aaron Abel noted that, "It was the people of Israel which I met through this program that made me truly love Israel."
A special thanks goes out to the Block, Canady, Osher, Kight, and Sims families for hosting the members of our Partnership 2Gether 2015 Summer Teen Delegation.