JCC Global Teen Fellows 2019
JCC Global Teen Fellows is an international program for Jewish teens from our Orange County JCC community and our partner JCC in Kfar Yona, Israel. Our teens to experience Jewish Peoplehood, expand their world through global connections, develop a foundation for becoming community leaders, as well cross the planet for amazing experiences, friends and adventures.
Below our 2019 JCC Global Teen Fellows share their experiences in Israel. Check out our teens quick bios here. And photos too!
Has the last day of our trip REALLY arrived?! It is hard to fathom that after months of anticipation and 18 days of travelling throughout Israel, our JCC Global Teen Fellows adventure has come to an end. But as we pack our bags and say our farewells, we know that our connection to the people and the land of Israel will last long after we touch down at LAX.
We celebrated our last day at an awesome pool party at the beautiful Kfar Shmariyahu home of Merage JCC board member, Dana Hollander. Everyone enjoyed swimming, playing ball on the grass, eating pizza and ice cream, and squeezing in the last conversations and photo opps with our Kfar Yona friends. We are so appreciative of Dana’s extraordinary hospitality, and we were happy that Idit and Hedva, board members from Kfar Yona’s Matnas, were able to join us. Adrienne Matros, also a Merage JCC board member, has been travelling with our group since Saturday night, so it was a great opportunity for “the older generation” to share the fun of the bond between our communities.
Soon we will head to the matnas for our final dinner with all of our teens and the host families. There will be plenty of hugs and tears, but mostly there will be gratitude for the experience we have shared.
It has been a joy for me to watch your children coalesce into an amazing group of thoughtful, considerate friends. Throughout our trip we have reflected on leadership – both through the examples of leaders we have learned about, and the leadership qualities that we have honed while we were here. Mark, Sarah, Dean, and I look forward to watching your children continue to grow as leaders in our community. It is our hope that wherever their paths take them, they will always be leaders in strengthening Jewish Peoplehood.
I want to express my deepest admiration and thanks to Mark Pattis, Sarah Horvitz, and Dean Becker for being outstanding role model for our teens. I enjoyed every moment of working with this incredible team! Special thanks to Dean for handling all of the medical needs (mostly band aids and ibuprofen!) and to Sarah for managing this wonderful blog. And thank you to Adrienne for being an extra pair of caring hands during the last part of our trip.
I look forward to seeing all of you back in Orange County, and to planning more trips to Israel!
This Global Teens trip has been a truly special experience. For most vacations I’ve had, I just mostly slept and did the things I wanted to do. I’m not going to lie: there were a lot of activities on this trip that I didn’t want to do. I did them regardless with new friends I had made and friends from OC. These experiences only proved to strengthen my friendships and further my knowledge of Israel. I am truly grateful for a trip where I didn’t sleep through the day and basically do nothing. I met people, I learned about Israel, and most of all, I had a great time. I will always look back on this as not a vacation, but a bonding and learning experience.
By: Ricky Grossman
Volunteering and Fun with Kfar Yona
This morning, we volunteered at the senior center in Kfar Yona. The Israelis taught us a new song, "Shevet Achim Ve'achayot" and we heard life lessons and stories from the residents. Next, we headed for Old Jaffa and had a wonderful lunch at Doctor Shakshuka. We walked around the flee market before heading to the Holon Children's Museum where we experienced a small taste of what life as a deaf person is like. Through this interactive exhibit, we spent an hour in their shoes and learned how to communicate without words. It was fascinating to say the least!
For me, this trip has been a fun, busy, sleepless, amusing, and new journey. Not most, but all of the teens have been provided with buckets of new places to travel, people to encounter, experiences to have, and leadership qualities to obtain. Personally, my host family has been crucial part of this trip. The Peleg family is, truly, one of the most caring, helpful, and kind families I have ever encountered. This is because of the fact that all of them have always wanted to be 100% positive that Olivia (my American roommate) and I are having the most incredible time. Ella, my Israeli host, has also helped me interact and meet all of the Israelis, as this is my first time meeting all of them. During the trip, for me the best parts have, unexpectedly, not been the activities that the staff has planned for us, but have rather been the little moments that no one is able to plan. For example, today we had free time in the Old Jaffa City. Ian and I went separately from most people and went to an ice cream store. We sat down and talked with other friends and both noted that we loved sitting in the store with air conditioning, just talking, and taking a second to sit back and appreciate everything that we have been doing.
Today has been a great day. We started off at a local location (in Kfar Yona). We walked into a building not quite knowing what we were about to do. We saw tables filled with elderly people, still not knowing what was about to happen. We were all then informed to grab chairs for elderly people to sit with all of us. About 5 teens were paired with 1 elderly Kfar Yona citizen. We learned a song and dance, but then were told to just simply talk to the elderly people. The elderly I talked to did not speak English so one of the Israelis translated an incredible story of hers to us. The woman explained that she was an 88 year old woman who went to jail when she was 15 and a half for a reason that was not valid. In her 10 days in jail, Israel was then founded. With much more detail, all of the teens were extremely intrigued and all absolutely adored her and her benevolent soul. After that, we hopped on the bus to take a ride to Dr. Shakshuka. We ate and I, quickly, reconnected with my friend Nataly Marciano there. After, we had free time in the Old Jaffa City in which I discussed what I did in the paragraph above. Lastly, we headed to the Holon Children’s Museum, an Invitation to Silence. There, we learned about and felt how it feels to be a deaf person. With our tour guide who was deaf, we had a very special and fun experience. Personally, it was very hard for me to communicate without talking or even mouthing words. Overall, today and the entirety of the trip have been incredible.
By: Rachael Neufeld
This trip has really brought a new light to my eyes in terms of friendship and leadership. Learning about the incredible leaders when touring Israel taught me that you have to take initiative to make things happen. This doesn’t only apply to such high standards such as building the foundations of a country, but as well in the little things like friendships and compromise. Coming to Israel I have not only learned a lot but I have created memories and experiences to last a lifetime. Some great experiences were riding camels, sleeping in the Bedouin tents, going to Humongous Burger and eating malabi. Dafna and her family have been so inviting to me in welcoming me into their home. I have never gone hungry because of them and I’m always having a good time.
Today we went to a place where we taught the senior citizens a dance to a song and learned about their experiences and our lady told us about her kids and her journey in making Aliyah. We then went to Dr. Shakshuka and met up with some friends from home. It was really nice to see someone outside of the program after being with the same people for so long, but it was also nice to see all the Israelis be excited to see her after a year. After that we went to a place called an Invitation to Silence where we experienced what it is like to be deaf. This really opened my mind into their lives. I could never imagine not being able to hear. I use that sense in so many ways. Although, it is a reality for some people, and I think learning about it was very important for me to experience. I look forward to the upcoming few days I have yet to experience.
By: Anna Weinberg
From Port to Port
We reunited with our Kfar Yona friends today! Our first visit was to Haifa, where we learned about the Baha’i religion and enjoyed the beautiful view of the port. Next we explored the ancient walls of Akko and learned about life within. We witnessed another beautiful view of the port city and concluded the day with dinner at host families.
My experiences throughout this trip have been amazing and really exceeded my expectations. Being in this country, and meeting so many people with so many different stories has definitely impacted my choices for my future. For me, the best lessons in leadership come from people who’ve lived them. I learned that being a leader doesn’t just mean to be in charge, but also to set an example for your peers and help them succeed, even if nobody really knows. After talking to the security guards and tour guides about their service in the IDF and learning about what it takes to be a soldier, I hope to get the chance to enlist into the Israeli army after high school.
Today we went back to Kfar Yona and finally got to see the Israelis again. Being with the Israelis is a lot of fun because I get to practice my Hebrew with them and they teach me new words. We went to Akko and toured old Crusader ruins. I had learned about the Crusades and their impacts on Jewish history, and standing there, where some of it happened was really cool. Before we left, we got to walk through the shook that’s partly on the water and I bought a few bags of Bamba nougat, cause they’re my favorite. Last, looking out at the Mediterranean Sea, I had that moment, the one you get when everything is quiet and you can just sit and think to yourself. Taking it all in, I felt such a strong love and connection to Israel and בעזרת השם (G-d willing), in two years I will be back here in a uniform.
By: Sivan Yehezkel
As I got to Israel, my friendships with the kids from Kfar Yona didn’t change a single bit since last year. I was expecting to have to get to know them again since it’s been almost a year but right as I started talking to them again, instantly there was the same connection. Once I arrived at my host family, I was welcomed in their house and I was treated like I’ve known them for such a long time but I had just met them. Elad, the kid who is hosting us, always takes us to places in order to entertain Jeff and me. Playing soccer and basketball and going to frozen yogurt with some of the Kfar Yona kids really helped Jeff and I connect with them not during the program. The mom in the host family is an amazing chef and she prepared us many delicious Israeli dishes that Jeff and I savored every minute of. As we started the program with the kids from Kfar Yona, The friendships that I have made with them strengthened as I got to spend a lot more time with them after it’s been such a long time. By going to sleep in the Bedouin tents and hiking Masada with the kids from Kfar Yona, I was really able to get close with them once again. I am really sad that this trip is coming to an end but I will for sure maintain my close friendships with the kids from Kfar Yona.
Today, to start off, we woke up in Tel Aviv and drove right to Kfar Yona in order to reunite with our Israeli friends. As we joined them, we drove directly to the Bahai gardens where we witnessed a beautiful view of the city of Haifa. After the gardens, we drove to a mall where we got free time to walk around and get lunch. Following the mall, we had a short drive to the city of Akko. In Akko we had the opportunity to explore historic buildings from the time of the Crusades. We got to see catapults from the time and we went through an underground tunnel. It was a day full of history. After learning the history, we had a little free time to enjoy the market in Akko to conclude the day.
By: Jordan Marciano
This trip to Israel proves to amaze me again and again. My expectations were low compared to what we have all been provided in the great country of Israel. I was anxious and pessimistic when thinking of going on this trip. The fear of no connections, being bored, and being lonely took over my view of the program. Even thinking of going to Israel in general was ruined by my negative mindset. Luckily, my predictions of the program were far from accurate. I have made close friends with both Kfar Yona kids and American kids that I didn’t know before Global Teens. I am so sad that this wonderful experience is almost over. I’m going to miss touring Israel and of course, shopping. The only thing I won’t miss is how hot it is! My host Tamar never let’s me sit around. She always gives us something cool to show of her home town. She and the rest of her family were so inviting and warm towards Maya C. and me. They have definitely been a huge part of my fantastic experience. I will miss my new friends from Israel, being with my fellow American Global Teens everyday, bus rides, the food (especially the falafel and frozen yogurt, and the unforgettable memories Israel has provided for me.
Today was all about touring and getting to know Israel a bit more. We woke up in Tel Aviv at the stunning Dan Panorama Hotel. We packed up and left to go back to our Kfar Yona friends. After meeting up with our hosts, a bus ride was made to Haifa! Haifa was so beautiful and we got to learn about a religion I had never heard of before. This religion is called Ba’hai. This religion is mainly spreading the word and meaning of equality. Two separate groups did skits promoting the religion. After that, we got on the buses and headed to a cool prison. It is from many, many years ago and we got to see old catapults. We also went through old tunnels and on the other side was a beautiful view of the ocean. It was definitely a nice day for history! Overall, my experience today and these past few weeks have taught me to be grateful for this wonderful Earth, Israel, and being Jewish.
By: Bella Trachtman
Shabbat in Tel Aviv
We celebrated our last Shabbat together as a group, in the vibrant city of Tel Aviv. Last night we gathered for a beautiful, musical Kabbalat Shabbat service at the Tel Aviv port, joined by many others as the sun set over the ocean. It was meaningful for me, as I got the chance to introduce a large group of the counselors in training from Emma Kaufmann Camp, the JCC summer camp that Sarah and I went to and worked at for a collective 20 summers, to our Global Teens. They will meet again in college.... it is inevitable. That is Jewish Peoplehood!
This evening, Debbie pulled out the applications that our teens submitted prior to acceptance into our program. Without names, she read some responses from the question, “what type of leader do you strive to be?” We then went around and gave each person a chance to comment on a leadership takeaway from this trip. While a lot of their leadership qualities will be realized and come to fruition at a later point in their life, it is our mission to get them to start to be aware of their own strengths, and what a good leader looks like. It is also our mission to empower them to learn from each other, and not be afraid to take risks.
Each of them risked themselves and here are some of the things they said......
Understand time management
Stand up for a cause
Listen to others
Understand that fear is inevitable
Don’t need a “title”
Don’t always lead from the front
I shared my perspective by acknowledging that gratitude is also a part of leadership. "You can't have joy without gratitude." I am grateful for the opportunity to be on this journey and create meaningful relationships with our teens.
We are on the home stretch. Tomorrow we will re-connect with our friends from Kfar Yona and put the finishing touches on an amazing 2 year Global Teen program. However the beauty of Teen programming is that the values, relationships, and memories will continue for a lifetime.
More to come......
By: Mark Pattis
Today started with a visit to Kfar Kedem where we got the chance to experience life during the Mishnah period, making pitas and riding donkeys. After a wonderful feast, we hit the road en route to Tel Aviv! Energy was high as we arrived at Shuk HaCarmel, the open-air market in the city. We have checked into our beautiful hotel, and concluded Kabbalat Shabbat at the Tel Aviv port, followed by a long walk along the water, and an amazing buffet style Shabbat dinner!
Hey blog! We have been here about one and a half weeks and overall it has been very fun. My favorite parts of the trip so far have included staying at the Bedouin Tents where we had a fantastic meal, rode camels and than woke up at 4 am to go hike Masada. It was very beautiful and we got to see a great sunset. Another part I enjoyed was shopping at Ben Yehuda street where Bella and I discovered many interesting and unique stores. Finally I had a lot of fun in Jerusalem staying in our hotel because all of the girls' rooms were very close so it was easy to talk to everyone and it was like one big slumber party!
Today we got to sleep in a little and woke up at 9. To start off our day we all ate breakfast at the Kibbutz and than got on the bus to head to pita making and donkey riding. Today was one of my favorite days because Anna and I got to meet Quinoa Anaya Butterface Cookie Monster (our donkey.) He was so cute and loving. Then we went to Tel Aviv to check into our hotel and got ready for Shabbat. As I am writing this we are currently on the beach listening to a music performance to celebrate our Shabbat. Next we will be walking back to the hotel to have a late dinner. Today was one of my favorite days yet and I cannot wait for more!
By: Maya Clausman
We just arrived in Kfar Yona. As we pulled up we had an amazing welcoming feeling with all the kids and parents waving flags and screaming to welcome us. After leaving Kfar Yona it felt like we are leaving our new families. We traveled South and saw the hottest of Israel and floated on the Dead Sea. Then we “slept” in Bedouin tents. The next morning we had to get up at 4 am to climb Masada. We were all so tired but it was worth it to watch the sunrise. We then headed to the Holy city of Jerusalem where we had a very spiritual experience at the Wall. We learned a lot about the history of the Old City. We headed north to the kibbutz at the Sea of Galilee and traveled from there to Tiberias and the Syria border which we were frightened at. After going we realized there was nothing to worry about. This trip has made me realize how people in different places in the world live and their cultures.
Today we left the North and started traveling to Tel Aviv! We stopped at Kfar Kedem where we dressed up as Jews from 1800 years ago. We learned how to make fresh pita and rode donkeys. This was followed by a traditional Israeli lunch which was amazing. We then traveled to the best hotel yet in Tel Aviv where we went to a Kabbalat Shabbat. From there we had an hour walk back to the hotel followed by the best buffet.
By: Ethan Shill
Exploring the Golan Heights
As we woke up in one of Israel's hottest regions, there was not better way to start the than a beautiful water hike. After working up quite an appetite we had lunch followed by a visit to De Karina, a boutique chocolate factory. Our adventure continued with a jeep tour through the Golan Heights as we learned about the geopolitics of the area. We finished the day with a Fourth of July barbecue (with an Israeli twist of course) and a discussion about Jewish identity in America.
My trip to Israel has been quite a surprise. I didn’t expect to meet so many great people in such a short amount of time. My host family has been a huge part in my trip. Ofir Shany, a senior from Kfar Yona, and her dad have hosted me and I couldn’t be happier. One of the highlights of my trip was on the first night, Julia and I just landed in Israel and we were starving. We expected to just get fast food, but came to our host family’s house to see a whole meal of shokshuka (it was amazing btw). My host family have been so welcoming and I can’t wait to spend more time with them.
I decided to start my blog from the night before since it was such a traumatic experience. I was in one of my friends room and a cockroach ran across the floor. After our initial screams, I went to go and catch it. After it flying and crawling all over, Olivia and I caught it in leanna’s shoes (she has informed me that she will not be wearing those shoes ever again). After this encounter, the day finally began with a water hike. After this, we went on a Land Rover exploration in the Golan heights. My tour guide, Yaya, made this experience even better then I expected. The highlight of my trip was seeing the Syrian border, and Yaya driving absolutely insane because he wanted to make the “Californian girls” scream as loud as we possibly could. We ended the day with a photo with Yaya and still I am looking for his Instagram but I think I will succeed.
By: Fiona Batstone
So far on this trip I’ve had many memorable experiences. One that really was cool to me was when we were in Jerusalem and there were deserts downstairs, and I kept coming down stairs for the dried mango. Slowly they were running out. And finally the I came down for the last piece and Jonas had the bag in his hand and he was saving it for me. So thank you Jonas for that :)!
Today we went on a water hike and the water got pretty deep. It was a little cold but after a while it felt really nice. Then we went on an off roaring tour. We went very close to the Syrian border and we saw an old, beat up hospital that was built by the Soviet Union. And then to top it off we had some good Israeli watermelon.
By: Ethan Duzman
Spirituality and Splash
We explored Tzfat, one of the four holiest cities in Israel, and heard stories about Jewish mysticism and the people who live there. We also had an opportunity to walk the streets and admire the culture and energy. Following Tzfat, we got on rafts and headed downstream the Jordan River. Our evening ended with some soccer, card games, and relaxing on hammocks at Kibbutz Degania.
So far this trip has been an amazing experience as we have had the opportunity to discover so much about the Israeli life and cultures including the amazing home cooked food. I got to experience the day to day life of an average teenager living in Kfar Yonah and from what I can say, it is very different from oc. We have also enjoyed touring most of the significant areas Israel has to offer. I also got the opportunity to form a forever lasting bond with my new Israeli family that hosted me.
Today we toured an old city called tsfat and had a great time learning about its religious history as well as shopping for quality jewelry . We then went rafting/kayaking which was a super fun way of combining g tourism and fun. Overall today was definitely one of the best days so far.
By: Ari Cohen
As my first year of Global Teens ended, I knew in my heart that Global Teens would be a part of me for life. Going to the seminars this year, I was increasingly looking forward to seeing my Israeli friends and also getting to share amazing life experiences with my friends from home. I will never forget when we arrived in Israel to see the Israeli Teens at their Jcc in Kfar Yona. I felt a sense of home even when I was a world away from Orange County. The host family welcomed us into their homes with open arms and embraced us as if we were their own family. Getting to live a different life for a week was eye opening and it was really fun to try new things such as eating salad for breakfast and getting to walk from house to house because everyone from the program lived so close together.
A special moment today was during the rafting on the Jordan River. As our raft drifted down stream, the current was picking up. I felt a surge of energy and we headed straight into a tree. My first instinct was to duck inside the raft to avoid the thorny branches. As we collided with the trees and bushes on the side of the river, a friend threw themself over me. He sacrificed himself to protect me from getting injured. In that moment, all I could do was be thankful for the amazing people I am surrounded by and how much they care about each and every person on this trip. A big component to this program is leadership, and I believe that this example shows a great leader who would sacrifice themselves for the greater good of other people. This act of kindness I will remember forever.
By: Beaue Bernstein
Visiting the North
We departed Jerusalem this morning and traveled North. Our first stop was kibbutz Sde Eliyahu, where we learned about their communal lifestyle as well as fascinating agricultural innovations. Next, we had fun swimming at Sachne, natural spring-fed pools with waterfalls. After learning about inspirational poets who wrote about the beauty of the Galilee, we took a cruise on the Sea of Galilee.
My trip to Israel so far has been an amazing experience. Being involved in the Global Teens program has enabled me to continue relationships with friends across the world that I’ve only communicated with for a short amount of time. I am so lucky to be here in Israel with my friends and I am happy I can call the land of Israel, my home. Staying with my best friend Ethan Newman has been a great experience so far, and I never want it to end. Ethan and I have been so grateful to be taken into our good friend Shachar’s house. He and his mother, brother, and sister have been so kind to Ethan and me. Although, I will say that I said thank you too many times, making Shachar’s mother tell me, “you need to stop being so polite and stop saying thank you, start being more like an Israeli.” I am so grateful to be here in Israel right now, and I am so happy I can be here in the Holy Land with my best friends and with the best advisors.
Our day today involved swimming in a natural spring, visiting a cemetery, and going on a cruise throughout the Sea of Galilee. The natural spring was the unique highlight of my day. The water felt so nice after schvitzing throughout the morning. Being with my friends in a refreshing natural spring enhanced my time and day in Israel. It is definitely a moment I will remember about my first time to Israel. The main highlight at the spring included me and a few other friends sitting on the edge of the water, allowing our dead skin (on our feet) to be eaten by the little fishies that passed by us. It was also nice to hear a little bit of a biography on a women who we should all remember, Rachel Bluwstein. She was diagnosed with tuberculosis and had written several songs that Israel and the people of Israel recognized. May she Rest In Peace. Finally, our day ended with a nice, relaxing cruise of the Sea of Galilee. So far, our trip has been great, and I cannot wait for the next adventure to come!
By: Micah Katz
So far my experience on this trip has been amazing. I’ve opened up to trying many new things and created many new bonds that I think will last for a lifetime. A few of my favorite parts on this trip so far have been... meeting everyone from Kfar Yona, bonding with friends, and visiting places I’ve never been to before. My host family has been really welcoming from the minute we arrived in Kfar Yona which really made me feel comfortable and excited about the rest of the trip.
We had a long day today, starting off by leaving our hotel in Jerusalem and driving North to the modern Israeli kibbutz where we learned about several agricultural innovations that were established there.
Side note: a bird pooped on me while we were there ;)
Later, we went for a swim at Sachne which is a natural spring-fed pool at the base of Mount Gilboa. After this, we visited a cemetery called Moshava Kinneret where we learned about poets and pioneers who shaped today’s Galilee.
And lastly, my favorite part of the day was the cruise on the Sea of Galilee. Everyone was dancing and singing and it was very fun! Overall, this trip has been life changing and i can’t wait to see what’s to come next.
By: Leanna Kondkhorov
Layers of History
Today we traveled back in time to the reign of King David in biblical Jerusalem. Our journey continued underground through Hezekiah's Tunnel, where we cooled off in the spring-fed aqueduct. Afterwards, we enjoyed a delicious falafel lunch followed by shopping in the Old City. Once more, we descended underground to explore millennia of history below the Western Wall. The night concluded with an entertaining and educational session with Neil Lazarus who spoke about the challenges that Israel faces and the politics surrounding it. He used his unique teaching style to engage us and challenge our thinking.
Today marks the halfway point through our adventure. Although we have not finished our touring, we still experienced a large amount of the country to understand the culture of Israel and take in life lessons. Personally, the Bedouin tent impacted me. Our group had an overnight there and it was memorable. We learned how the Bedouins lived through a firsthand experience. The amusing memories made from this overnight will never be forgotten. At first, I felt a culture shock because the life in California compared to the Bedouins is very different. Looking back at the night, I feel more educated than before.
We started off the day by arriving at the City of David. We examined the remains of a castle and government building from the 9th or 10th century. Archeologists discovered the time period by carbon dating. The main attraction of the day was walking through the ancient water tunnel. We learned the tunnel was constructed in order for the river water to be transferred to a pool. The tunnel experience was frightening but also enjoyable at the same time. The darkness of the tunnel made it hard to see where we were heading. Singing songs and yelling jokes with everyone lightened the experience. Finally, we were ravenous after the water tunnel; at lunch we had delicious falafel with fries.
By: Ethan Newman
Throughout the trip so far it has been really fun getting to strengthen previous friendships (with people from both Orange County and Israel) and to form new friendships too. I loved staying at the host family. They were so friendly and welcoming and they made me feel right at home. My favorite part so far is the Dead Sea. I thought it was a unique experience that we don’t get at home.
Today we got to explore both Hezekiel’s Tunnels and the tunnels under the Western Wall. It was interesting to learn how the ancient Israel societies functioned trough their use of the tunnels. Hillel told us a lot about the history of Israel that I had never known before. We also got to hear from Neil Lazarus. I loved listening to him as he talked to us in a fun and informative way. I think that really helped me to enjoy learning what he was telling us.
By: Kerren Goldberg
Remembrance and Bravery
We had a relaxing Shabbat morning at a park in Jerusalem. We enjoyed an afternoon walk on the walls of the Old City from Jaffa Gate to Zion Gate, overlooking the Armenian quarter.
Today, we started our day at Mt. Herzl National Cemetery where we honored Israel's leaders and fallen soldiers. We heard the story of Michael Levin, an American lone soldier who bravely sacrificed himself defending Israel during the Second Lebanon War. We continued to visit the graves of many other fallen soldiers, learning about other leaders such as Itzhaak Rabin, Golda Meir, Chanah Senesh, and Theodore Herzl. Next, we walked to Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center. We concluded the day with dinner and shopping on Ben Yehuda Street.
Throughout our time in Israel so far we have encountered many new experiences, cultures, and lifestyles. While many of us have been to Israel prior to this trip, I think this trip serves a new purpose, to unify. All the activities and places we have traveled to so far have proved to test our ability to collaborate and ability to get in touch with our Jewish heritage. In Kfar Yona, we reconnected with our friends and strengthened the amazing bond we already had with them.
Today was our greatest test as a group and also as individuals. Throughout the day we visited Yad Veshem and Mount Hertzel, both highly emotional places and arguably the most memorable moment of the whole trip. Throughout this tough experience we showed strength and friendship and showed our connection as a group. The most impactful moment for me was not the direct objects in front of us, but the stories behind them and the sense of pride it gives you to be a Jewish individual. Today was not fun, but it was the most memorable and important thing that we will encounter during our time in Israel. Our tour guide wisely told us, “what makes us genuinely happy is not the fun, but rather the memories and meaningful moments.” While this was not the most fun day, I wouldn’t trade it for any other day as it served as a meaningful experience I will remember forever.
By: Jared Maister
This past week has been absolutely incredible. This is my second time in Israel and going with family versus friends is a whole other experience that I am very grateful to have. Each one of us are teens growing up in Orange County, facing all the normal issues like school, and stress, but each living completely different lives. It is amazing to me that we can all come together and share this experience of Israel together. We have seen and done so much in this past week that many people have never even done in their entire lives. We have hiked, sang, walked, and made so many memories with each other as well as the teens from Kfar Yona.
Today was a very meaningful day. We started the day by going to Mount Hertzel. We saw so many graves of brave heroes who fought to ensure our land and all the people in it are protected and safe. We stopped by one grave in particular that really stood out to me. Yes we went to the graves of more well known heroes like Michael Levin or Golda Meir, but the one that stood out to me was Hillel’s (our tour guide) friend's grave. He started to tear up at the sight of his friend buried beneath the ground. It was like a wake up call for me to see that there are real people and real stories behind these graves that died for the greater good of the people. To me, that is a true hero. With the topic of heroes in mind, we walked to the Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem. The Holocaust itself is a very sensitive and personal topic to the millions of people that have been affected by it. But hearing it and then physically seeing what our people had to go through are two completely different things. Seeing all the faces of everyone who had to go through the torture and starvation all because of their beliefs is beyond anything anyone can ever imagine. What really hit me was the big crate of shoes from all the people who were burned in ovens. Each pair of those shoes had a family, or a job, and each pair of those shoes had a story that never got to be told because of cruel people. On the topic of heroes again, our tour guide told us a story about how there were 25 people living in the sewer being fed by a citizen who overheard them talking one day, he promised to never turn them into the Nazis. One of the 25 was a pregnant lady who gave birth in the sewer. The citizen wanted to raise the baby with his wife so the baby would have the chance of survival. However, when the baby was born the mother held her hand over the mouth of the baby to stop him from crying. The baby eventually passed away from not being able to breathe. The big question is, this mother who accidentally killed her child, but she saved 24 other people from being caught by the Nazis because of her crying child. So was she a hero or not? I believe any single person who has risked their life for another or even struggled to survive to keep the Jewish traditions alive is a hero. Whether it be someone who died fighting for Israel, or someone who perished in the Holocaust, or even someone who helped an elderly person cross the road, heroes are all around us. It is up to us to find them and share their stories.
By: Lauren Kessel
We are on the 5th day of our adventure and spirits are running as high as the day we landed in Israel. On Friday, we left Kfar Yona for a meager 9 days. Emotions were bitter sweet. Bitter, because we were saying goodbye to our close friends. Sweet because we were going to our homeland's capital, Jerusalem.
As we were approaching the ‘City of Gold’ faces were no longer glued to phones trying to sooth the boredom of the long bus ride. Everyone’s faces began peering out the windows of our bus soaking in all the magnificent culture and beauty that the pinnacle of the Middle East, Jerusalem, had to offer.
As night fell we witnessed an incredible transformation: a city filled with honking horns and pushy vendors turned into a city filled with song and prayer. As we approached the Western Wall, the last standing physical connection we have to our Jewish ancestors, we experienced an incredible feeling of community and belonging. As night fell we created a circle embracing one another while singing the songs of our ancestors.
By: Ian Macdonald
Tonight marks the conclusion of an eventful Sabbath in the Holy City. It is a late dusk. The waning crimson sun turns Jerusalem stone to glowing gold. But just hours earlier, although it seems more like days, the sun was rather opposite, performing its ascent in the upwards direction as the day began in the Promised Land. It was at this time that I found my feet stepping upon Jerusalem streets, for my morning was spent visiting the synagogues of the city. By before midday, I had attended services at five separate synagogues, each unique in character. Here I would like to highlight three of these places of worship, the three that I spent the greatest amount of time at and the three that I found most impactful.
Allow me to begin with the reform synagogue. As I stepped through the gates, I discovered not what I had not at all expected and hardly ever before viewed in such a place. A bountiful, lush garden of greenery bloomed before me. Clearly, this synagogue emphasized a connection to God through the natural world around. The building itself was rather small. It had doors of simple stained glass panels. The building was mostly filled by several rows of seats in a compact room, no individual more than a few meters from the Rabbi. The congregation, I noticed, consisted largely of people from Eastern European backgrounds. During the service itself, there was an emphasis on each prayer and every synagogue member who chanted each one. My visit to this synagogue imbued me with a greater understanding about the way in which a group of people were able to participate in and celebrate Judaism by taking their traditions and values into a new location, and therefore transforming them to something greater, which the congregation all took part in as a whole.
The conservative synagogue I attended also provided unique insight into the practices of another group; these people were mostly Americans who had made Aliyah. The first aspect of the synagogue that I noticed were its vivid, scintillating stained glass windows, several of which lined each wall. Each window depicted a different scene from the Tanakh, each representing a unique Jewish tale. The service spent a significant proportion of time on the Torah portion, a story from Numbers revolving around Moses, Aaron, Korah, and the Hebrew tribes. This synagogue provided elucidation upon the manner in which this congregation values storytelling in order to become closer to their religion.
Certainly the Great Synagogue is unlike any synagogue which I have ever before attended. A truly massive structure, the Great Synagogue is defined by complex architecture and countless ornately designed items embellishing the interior. This synagogue is extremely orthodox, and was occupied by many traditional Ashkenazi Jews along with Jews visiting from around the world. The Ashkenazim in the audience wore the customary clothing of fine suits, fur hats, and the like while they fastidiously followed the prayers and movements. Dominating the sanctuary is an elaborate stained glass window many meters tall, a exquisitely crafted work with a prodigious level of detail. Every prayer was sung with grandeur by the choir in voices that resonated throughout the sanctuary. This grand synagogue illustrated the complete dedication of the Orthodox congregants towards Judaism and their tradition of reaching towards holiness through lengthy, high-flown services and an edifice of equal splendor.
Through my visits to each of the synagogues I visited today, I was able to grasp a greater understanding of the ways in which Jews in Jerusalem connect to our religion, therefore enabling myself to enhance my connection to God and Judaism.
By: Jonas Holdaway
Hi blog! Yesterday, June 28th we arrived in Jerusalem, woohoo! When we arrived we explored Machane Yehuda, then went to the Western Wall and had Kabbalat Shabbat. For me personally being at the Western Wall on Shabbat was a very emotional experience, and was moved by sharing that experience with my friends. After that we walked back to our hotel, had dinner, then went to sleep. Today we walked to a park for a relaxing morning. After a peaceful morning at the park we went to Aroma for coffee, where I practiced my Hebrew skills and was shocked when the barista understood what I had said. Later in the day we went on a tour of the Old City. Even though I had been on this tour multiple times I learned and saw more about the Old City than I had in my previous trips. Overall the last few days have been very memorable.
By: Maya Lin
Shabbat in Jerusalem
We said lehitraot, see you later, to our Kfar Yona friends and traveled to Jerusalem. Our first stop was a gorgeous lookout of the city, where we recited the shehecheyanu blessing together as a group. Afterwards, we took a walking tour of the Jewish community, Nachlaot. We then went to Mahane Yehuda, a vibrant open-air marketplace. We concluded our day at the Western Wall for Kabbalat Shabbat and sang a few songs together. We are all looking forward to learning more about the Old City tomorrow.
Leading up to arriving in Kfar Yona, I thought that I would not have a connection with the Israelis because I was not involved in the program last year. However, once we arrived in Kfar Yona my opinion was instantly changed from the warm welcomes from people who I have never met. They made me feel like Kfar Yona was my home as well.
The second and third full day were my favorite days of the trip so far. On the second full day we slept in a Bedouin tent, and I’ll say that was an experience that I will never forget. It may not have been the most comfortable, but it was extremely fun. The Israelis were cracking jokes the whole night and I was dying of laughter. Then on the third full day we woke up at 4:00 and hiked up the Roman ramp to the top of Masada to see the beautiful sunrise. After touring Masada we descended down the snake path which took us an hour. Shortly after that we drove 30 minutes and took a hike to a water fall, where we took a refreshing swim. As we were leaving the water fall I was walking with Ori Stein, who is an Israeli. We really connected on the walk because we were talking about cars, which we are both very passionate about. It was a very interesting conversation because there are not nearly as many sports cars in Israel as there are in California. In spite of Israel not to having too many sports cars, Ori knew all of the cars that I knew and we really bonded over cars.
Next up was the Dead Sea which was very fun. Even though I did not go in the Dead Sea, because I did it last year, it was still an experience just chilling with the Israelis on the shore. Then we drove back to Kfar Yona and we got to bond even more with the Israelis, which was fun.
By: Jeff Reinharz
I really enjoyed getting to know my host family. They are extremely nice and welcoming. I am fortunate to have met new people in Israel besides my family. Going to the Dead Sea was a really nice experience. I haven’t been there since I was 4 so it was really great to get to experience that again. I also had the opportunity to bond with other groups that were also tourists. For example there was a nice group of South Africans I met that were doing the Birthright program. It was so much fun!
By: Maya Abelowitz
When I was first introduced to the Global Teen Fellows program, I was anxious that I would not connect and find things in common to the kids in Kfar Yona. In addition, I was confused as to how it related to leadership. The program allowed me to meet new people and build relationships with the kids in Kfar Yona. From the ice-breaker activities to the adventurous outings, this program sets a base for relationships to be made. The Global Teen Fellows program allows young teens to gain leadership skills and social confidence in many aspects that all lead back to leadership. The program does an amazing job of integrating the social relationships between the kids of OC and kfar yona and tying it back to leadership.
My experience in Israel has been very fun, spiritual, and sleepless. Every day we do is engaging and interesting activities that show us the physical and spiritual components of Israel. For example, yesterday we woke up at an angering 4 am to hike up Masada. It was really interesting to see the history as to what happened there and the spiritual aspect behind it. Our tour guide explained how the Jews that lived on Masada acted in response to the romans wanting to take control over the city. In the end, the experience was all worth it, even the tiring hike down. So far Israel has impacted me in many great ways and I am overwhelmed (in a good way) with the exciting activities.
By: Eli Brand
Visiting the Negev
We traveled South with our Kfar Yona friends to explore the desert region of Israel. We visited the home of Israel's first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, and learned about his leadership and vision. We visited an Israeli Air-force army base and then headed to a Bedouin tent where we enjoyed camel riding, a delicious feast for dinner, and hanging out with friends by the bonfire. We woke up the next morning in time to climb up Masada as the sun was rising. Our trip continued with a fun water hike and a visit to the Dead Sea.
So far, my time in Israel has been incredible. Rekindling the relationships that I made last year was so amazing and it has been so fun catching up with everyone. This is my first time in Israel and already the trip has been so exciting and amazing that I know it will not be my last time here. A big reason why my experience so far has been so fun is because of my host family. The Peleg’s have been so welcoming and made the transition here much better. Ella always makes sure we have plans for the night and every time we do something it’s always so fun. My favorite thing so far that we have done has definitely been the camel riding. Just being in the Bedouin camp and sleeping in the tent was an experience I will definitely never forget.
The overall peak of the past few days as well as being with everyone again is definitely the food. I have loved being adventurous with different meals and every time it’s always delicious. The snacks are all so good and I just love experiencing the culture with everyone. As every day goes by, I feel even more connected and empowered by my Judaism and I have never been more proud to be Jewish. I cant wait to see what’s going happen in the next couple weeks but I couldn’t be more excited.
By: Olivia Averill
As a Global Teen Fellow, I am in the second year of the program and am extremely happy with the outcome, one of the best experiences of my life. I thoroughly enjoyed the program last year, and the way the last few days have passed make me very excited for the future. I have a lot of family in Israel, so I come here very often, but this time has been completely different, very special in teaching us about who we are and what our history is as a people. We have spent some time in Kfar Yona reconnecting with our friends before driving down with them to learn more about the Negev, or the desert region, of Israel.
We have gone camel riding, hiking in Masada, swimming in the Dead Sea, and had the opportunity to spend more time together and strengthen our connection to each other and to Israel even more. My host family has been incredible, and are one of the main reasons why I feel so at home while on this trip. The Steins have been extremely welcoming in hosting us and have treated us to some of the delicacies of Kfar Yona, while also constantly making us laugh and helping us enjoy ourselves. Throughout this trip we have learned to take in our past and be proud of who we are, and I greatly look forward to where the rest of the trip takes us.
By: Jonathan Kfir
Welcome to Israel
We woke up feeling rejuvenated from our long travels and ready for our adventure together. We had a great first day in Israel with our Kfar Yona friends! We made strong bonds, enjoyed Israeli snacks like Bamba and Bissli, and learned a few Israeli games, songs and dances! We ended their day with dinner and activities at host families. We are off to the Negev tomorrow.
Hey blog!! Today is our second full day in Israel and we’re all having lots of fun seeing new things, trying new foods, and meeting new people. So far we’ve spent a lot of time doing ice breakers with the Israelis and learning more about the differences between our cultures. Right now we’re all on our way to an army base around an hour and fifteen minutes away from Kfar Yona, and while all of us are super tired from our flight we’re way more excited to continue exploring Israel with all of our friends.
Through the host family experience, I’m getting to know both Fiona and Ofir really well. I knew Fiona before but since we’ve gotten here I feel like we’ve really bonded. We went out for burgers and talked about life and we found out that we have a lot of similarities. It’s crazy that we live so far away from each other and still have so much in common.
By: Julia Schachtel
The first day in Kfar Yona and our to trip to Israel is over. And what a day it has been. Most of us flying in were very jet-lagged and exhausted but our spirits were dramatically raised by our friends in Kfar Yona running after our bus. After the warm greetings and a swarm of hugs, we went to bed ready for the first day in Israel.
Waking up in the morning I had a warm feeling that today was going to be epic. We walked toward the community youth center while cracking jokes and being shown the small yet amazing city. And the rest of the day was we spent having fun with our Israeli friends and a variety of games and dancing.
One amazing moment from that first day was the arrival to Kfar Yona. My friends personally ran towards me and jumped on me and hugged me, and it was like we never left. During that, it occurred to me the power of this program because despite knowing each other for a little less than a month in person, we are already unbreakable friends.
By: Aaron Sundukovskiy
Toda rabah: thank you!
Supported by Doris Chasin and a grant from the Leon Ninburg Israel Legacy Fund of the Jewish Federation & Family Services of Orange County.
Funding support provided by a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation Orange County.