Jax teen finds a common connection at home and abroad with Israeli friends  


Exchange Participant​  


      At the beginning of last year, I would have never imagined having a handful of new best friends that live halfway across the world. This past summer, I explored Israel and the U.S. with Israeli teens, making new friends, and creating unforgettable memories. Some of my favorite moments aren’t the big  extravagant things we did like hiking Masada, swimming in the Dead Sea, or going to Universal. Even though these were spectacular, my favorites were the rides on the bus or the nights we’d all spend  together, hanging out, laughing, and dancing.


       Initially I went on the trip so I could experience Israel and see everything they had taught me in  Hebrew School first hand, but I really got more than I bargained for. At first, I wasn’t sure if I’d know  anyone else on the trip and I also was hoping that my host family would be nice. Instead of just getting just one really nice host, I got two. That’s because about a month before the trip, when we were about to get our host families, I got a call asking me if I would be ok with having two hosts and I didn’t even think twice. To me this was a chance to leave Israel with two new best friends instead of one.


       Besides all the touristy things that we did in Israel and Jacksonville, we also took part in service projects. Throughout the month we were together, we’d pick eggplants in Israel, volunteer at River Garden here in Jacksonville, and cut shrubs around trees to prevent forest fires in Israel. Those parts of the trip were some of my favorites and were the most rewarding because I was giving back to the communities while doing a mitzvah which to me is something that I think is very important. I’ve learned so much this summer, about being Jewish, Israel and Israelis.


      Going into the trip I was nervous that there would be a difference in the culture, because Israel is a whole difference country and speaks a difference​ language, but once I got there I felt at home. Everyone was so kind and welcoming and the best part of my experience is I learned that Israeli teens are just like American teens. They do a lot of things that we do and like a lot of the same things we like. We all immediately bonded over the same music, artists and activities and it made me so happy to know that I had so many common interests with people across the world. 


      The Jewish Federation does a perfect job of planning and organizing their Tikkun Olam trip to Israel, because now when I think about Israel I think about all my new best friends and all of the memories we made together. That, to me, makes Israel a more personal place, because I’ll always have friends there. This is trip is so special because Israeli teens get to show us a piece of their life and then they come to our home and we share ours. 


      Rose Blumenfeld traveled to Israel as part of the Jewish Federations’ Israel Partnership Program. For more information about this incredible experience, please contact Jill Abel at 904-448-5000, ext. 1200, or via jilla@jewishjacksonville.org.