Strangers become fast friends for Jacksonville educator on recent P2G trip to Israel
BY LEAH PALESTRANT
Having made ‘the South’ my chosen home since leaving Ohio after college, I have been exposed to hospitality at its finest. However, everything from my welcoming congregation to the selfless friends I have surrounded myself with don’t hold a (Chanukah) candle to Israeli hospitality I experienced on my recent trip.
As participant in Partnership 2Gether Hadera Eiron-SE Consortium, I was fortunate enough to spend the first half of our journey with a host family in the region. This being my third trip to Israel, the experience of not only sleeping at host family’s house, but quickly becoming a part of an Israeli family, was a special aspect of this Educator Delegation program that I have never experienced before. From the initial e-mail introductions, Naomi was worried that her English wouldn’t be up to par to accommodate me. However, upon the first hug, we both realized that we wouldn’t let language prevent us from forming a lifelong partnership. Speaking to our shared experience as educators, we quickly learned how united and similar we both are in our common values and work ethic.
The Shabbat tradition in the Zilberstein family involves Friday night dinner together (same as my family’s tradition growing up) and taking a car trip around the country on Saturday. So, on the day before Christmas, we traveled to Nazareth where both Naomi and her husband grew up. There, we met up with a local friend of Naomi’s who teaches Arab students, the two of them have received awards for their cross-cultural work of their classes to expose their students to a diversity of people from a young age. While many might pay for a tour through some of the holiest cities in the world, this unique experience had us stopping in the local barber shop, getting stuck behind a parade, and eating the most delicious, indescribable desert.
In addition to being a part of her family, I also got to shadow Naomi in her professional life. As a teacher of seventh, eighth and ninth grade students and a manager of other Math teachers, I was yet again welcomed with open arms. I am most excited about finding ways for my students here in Jacksonville to interact and collaborate with her students across the pond. While my Facebook statuses from December were of course filled with pictures from the Western Wall and the beautiful lights of Chanukah, it’s the small moments with my new found family of educators from the Southeast and Israel that will live on in my internal news feed for years to come.