A group of 30 Jewish students from the US, Hungary and Israel hold a special weeklong seminar in the Western Galilee
A first seminar was held within the framework of the Tikkun Olam project operated by the Western Galilee partnership2GETHER, a Jewish Agency consortium of American and Hungarian communities. The students underwent a comprehensive training process and extensive preparation for the seminar, and had become acquainted with each other via Facebook prior to their arrival in Israel.
A booklet containing the participants’ names, photographs and personal information, as well as the week’s activity schedule, was sent to every seminar participant; a great deal of coordination and precise planning work was carried out by the seminar coordinators, Eliad Eliyahu Ben Shushan, Educational Coordinator for the Western Galilee partnership, and Ayala Peer, the partnership’s shlicha to Austin, Texas. “You have been chosen to take part in the seminar thanks to your commitment to the Jewish people, your sense of responsibility, and your desire to learn about different cultures. You will gain a greater understanding of the partnership activity, the people who receive assistance via the partnership, and the good deeds that take place daily under its auspices,” wrote Megan Maurer, the partnership’s American education staff chair, to the students. Maurer’s Israeli counterpart, Avia Zimran, added, “What unites the activity that you will experience during your stay at the seminar is the desire to give and to volunteer. You should be proud of your participation and of the good deeds that you will be doing over the coming days.”
Regarding the Israeli students chosen to take part in the seminar attend Western Galilee College – in light of the productive relationship between the College and the Western Galilee partnership, it was recently decided to form the Shagririm (“Ambassadors”) group.
The role of this group is to maintain contact with Jewish student groups around the world, to engage in hasbara in Israel and abroad, and to build living bridges with students in the Diaspora Jewish communities. For this purpose the students chosen to participate in the program attended a preparatory seminar within the framework of the Unit for Social Involvement, in which they met with the Dean of the College, the Director of the Marketing Department, and Dr. Boaz Cohen, who lectured on the Holocaust in Europe.
All plans for week of exhilarating activity were in place when the tired but happy students landed in Israel and took part in a light yoga workshop to refresh themselves. After meeting their fellow seminar participants and having lunch together, the group set off on a border tour aimed at helping them understand the constant threat to which the Western Galilee region is exposed. The seminar’s official, and highly enjoyable, inaugural party was held that evening.
After a good night’s sleep the participants awoke to their second seminar day and made their way to one of the most important stops in their weeklong itinerary, Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya. The students heard a talk about the hospital’s activity during the Second Lebanon War, and toured the underground hospital facility. They also brought cheer to the children hospitalized in the wards by distributing gifts and posing for photographs with them.
“Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya maintains a close relationship with the Jewish Agency’s Western Galilee partnership. These interactions between teens from the partner communities and our institution are important for the cultivation of our global family. We have worked for years to nurture these relationships through the partnership, and are pleased to be hosting this group of young and enthusiastic students,” said Dr. Massad Barhoum, Director of Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya.
Over the course of the week the group visited several additional sites in the Western Galilee: the Orot Hesed organization in Akko, where the students packed holiday food baskets, the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum, a home for the aged, and more. In between they also enjoyed visiting the beaches and unique tourism sites that the Western Galilee has to offer.
“The students who came to the Western Galilee like many delegations that visit here within the partnership framework, made a great contribution to the region. I was pleased to have the opportunity to hold this unique seminar for the first time, and I’m sure it will become a partnership tradition,” said Mission and Marketing Coordinator Heidi Benish.
The entire visit was documented on a blog that the students created, where they uploaded photographs and posted the impressions left by their experiences in the region. One of the blog’s most interesting posts discussed Israel’s restful Shabbat atmosphere: “What a great and relaxing Shabbat we had! After a long week of volunteering, touring and learning, the Shabbat was a great relaxing time. The weather was great, so most of the students hung out in the hotel gardens all day, talking and playing. We also had two sessions, led by Eliad and Ayala, about Passover and about the Scroll of independence, connecting both to what we did this week.”
In order to understand the purpose of the students’ participation in the seminar and their desire, as Diaspora Jews, to see Israeli life first-hand, I talked with three outstanding students: 21 year-old Bailey Haskell of Louisville, Kentucky, 21 year -old Judith Schuller of Budapest , Hungary, and 21 year-old Mark Siegel of Austin, Texas. This was a second visit to Israel for these three students, who are proud of their heritage and active in Jewish groups at their respective universities.
Why did you decide to take part in the seminar and what are you hoping to get out of it?
Judith: “I decided to participate because it’s a week of volunteering in the Western Galilee region, which is our partner region. I’m hoping to get a first-hand glimpse of Israeli life, to get to know more Jews my age, and, most of all, to help strengthen the partnership.
How did you prepare for the seminar?
Bailey: Our group held many meetings in advance of the seminar, where we talked about a range of issues, such as responsibility and volunteering.
Mark: “The Texas group discussed Israeli culture, the water issue, and got to know the Western Galilee region. We also volunteered at a community center.”
Judith: Our group started preparing for the trip in November, and every week we engaged in different kinds of volunteer activity, such as helping out at a Jewish old age home, packing food packages, and more.
What was the activity you liked best of all the activities you took part in over the week?
Mark: “The activity that was most meaningful for me was the visit to the Ayalim project that works to reinforce the settlement effort and social involvement in the Negev and the Galilee, and is putting David Ben-Gurion’s doctrine into practice.:
Bailey: I was very moved by the activity with the children at ‘House on House’ where we painted the walls, made cakes and planted flowers.”
Judith: “I want to be a teacher someday, and I really enjoyed the special connection with the children and the activity we took part in together.”
Will you come back to Israel and to the Western Galilee, or perhaps even make aliyah?
Bailey: “I’m very connected to Israel and Judaism and I’d like to live here in the future.”
Mark: “Although Israel has its problems I see myself coming back here in the future with my family.”
How did this visit differ from your earlier trip to Israel, and would you recommend the program to your friends?
Mark: “This time I really got to know Israel, I wasn’t just a tourist. The border visit made me realize that the situation in the region is very sensitive, and the missile we saw at the hospital made the war that I had heard about on the news real to me. I have a friend who’s planning to come to Israel and I’m going to recommend warmly that she visit the Western Galilee.”
Judith: “Before I came here I had mostly heard about the negative side of Israel as it’s presented in the media. I was happy to find during this visit that, although the country is under constant threat, the residents continue with their normal everyday routine and hope to make peace with the neighboring countries.”
How do you think your visit will influence you when you return home?
Bailey: “Thanks to the trip I’m planning, together with my cousin who’s here with me, to organize more Israel-related events and to encourage as many students in our organization as possible to take part in this enjoyable seminar. Of course I’ll try to stay in touch with my new friends as much as possible.”
Judith: “It’s not easy to be Jewish in Hungary, in Israel I’m unselfconscious and it’s normal. I never used to tell people I was Jewish, after my previous visit to Israel I dared to tell my close friends about it, and this visit is reinforcing my sense of pride and belonging to the Jewish people.”
“This is a great beginning and we hope the relationships between the students will be maintained and that they will be joined by more students from Israel and abroad,” said Dr. Nissim Lagziel, Director of the Unit for Social Involvement in Western Galilee College’s Dean of Students Office, in light of the seminar’s success.
“A unique opportunity emerged to hold a seminar for students from the three partnership communities. The seminar gave the participants skills and practical and meaningful experience in the community volunteering sphere, via an array of projects in which they took part over the course of the week. The most important aspect of holding the seminar is the special relationships that developed between the participants. I’m certain that when they return home the students will be ambassadors of Israel and the Western Galilee, and that we’ll be seeing some of them immigrate to Israel,” said Eliad Eliahu Ben Shushan, Educational Coordinator of the Western Galilee partnership, who accompanied the group throughout the week.
JAFI’s Partnership 2Gether program is a unique initiative that brings 550 communities around the world into contact with each other via 45 partnerships in Israel. As a local effort with national impact, each partnership in the program framework offers opportunities for contact between Israeli and Diaspora communities. This contact sparks and reinforces international relationships via a joint communal process.
The US Central Area Consortium-Western Galilee partnership includes the following communities: Austin, Canton, Des Moines, Dayton, Indianapolis, Louisville, Northwest Indiana, Omaha, San Antonio, South Bend, Toledo, Youngstown, Akko, Matte Asher and Budapest. The partnership has been active for 16 years and encourages joint relationship-building efforts via programs aimed at reinforcing Jewish identity in the US and Israel, and at strengthening interaction between Israel and the US.