Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Jewish Communities Mifgash 2015!

Fellows from Cohort 6 reflect on their own memorable experiences from the Jewish Communities Mifgash. For 9 days, 20 Haifa Diller Teen Fellows came to Boston for an enriching educational seminar in which they explored the Boston community. The overall narrative was the Jewish value of Inclusion/Hachala. Daily themes focused on getting to know Boston, getting to know the Jewish community, social justice, Israel, and innovation.

Noah Weisskopf:  As the Americans lay in bed anxiously waiting to see what their Israeli looks like inperson as opposed to on her Facebook, the Israelis tossed and turned on a twelve hour flight anxiously waiting to see what their American looks like in person as opposed to on his Facebook; excitement, fear, and unparalleled anticipation were the themes of the day. One by one the Americans filed into the JCC where eventually they were led on a blind trust walk onto the basketball court where they were then ambushed by the Israelis. Hugs and introductions were exchanged as the staff prompted everyone to sit down in two big circlesand a speed dating game was initiated. In this game each American was paired with an Israeli, and each Israeli with an American, and they were asked a question about their life which they were meant to discuss. As fun as this activity was, for many this was their first encounter with the language barrier. After the speed dating game, all of the American fellows found their families and, after a couple minutes of obligatory mingling, sat down at their assigned table with their Israeli. Formal introductions were made, food was eaten, and Israelis were forced to speak in English for an extended period of time. After the opening ceremony concluded, the families went back to their homes to officially welcome the Israelis. The twelve hour flight and the extended periods of English led to some unfortunate shower mishaps at some peoples’ homes and to, of course, some incredibly tired Israelis who fell asleep as soon as they were shown their bed. This day was the first day where the Boston Haifa connection was actually tangible and where the first traces of life changing experiences could be seen coming in the not-so-distant future.
Yuval Marcus:

    During my experience in the JCM, I hosted Shmuel, who was born in Ethiopia and immigrated to Israel when he was 7. I have hosted many Israelis before in my home, but this is the first time I hosted someone my age who was not born in Israel. It was interesting to learn from Shmuel about Ethiopian culture. He told us about the special bread that his mother makes, and he taught us some simple words in Amharic. I was very moved when he told me that he had to learn Hebrew from scratch when he arrived in Israel. I have studied Hebrew for many years, but still find it difficult to speak. My Israeli-born father helped translate for me. Shmuel definitely gave me hope that anyone can learn Hebrew at any age.
    I also enjoyed hearing about Shmuel’s experiences at his boarding school. He told me that all the kids sit at meals with kids who came from their own countries. They speak Hebrew in the classroom, but they can speak their native languages at meals. During Shmuel’s visit with me, he learned his brother got engaged. His brother sent a video of the engagement, and we got to see pictures of his family and his friends.
    Even though Shmuel is an Ethiopian Israeli Jew and I am an American Jew, we are united by love for Israel and a feeling that Israel is a home for all Jews. What I liked most about hosting Shmuel is that we got to share a home in Boston too.
Shachar Berkowitz Regosin:

After a day filled with getting to know the city of Boston, the Haifa fellows spent the next day exploring and learning about the different Jewish communities and organizations in Boston. They kicked off the Jewish Community Tour Day with a tour of the JCC with Mark Sokoll, and then went on to visit organizations such as Gateways, Maayim Hayim Mikveh, and CJP. Each organization focused on different aspects of Jewish life in Boston. In the later afternoon the Boston fellows met up with the Haifa fellows at Temple Emanuel. After a tour of the synagogue, everyone sat down for a rabbi’s panel with four amazing rabbis. Coming from diverse backgrounds, each rabbi represented a different Jewish denomination. After an introduction from Jonathan Sarna, each rabbi went on to describe his or her Jewish background. It was amazing for the Haifa teens to see four very different rabbis with many different theologies, points of view, and understandings of what it means to be Jewish, in one room agreeing to openly talk about their differences. We then went on to asking the rabbis questions and delved deeper into the intricacies of each denomination. My group covered topics ranging from women’s rights in Judaism, and how the denominations are changing, to the experience of being a rabbi in the south and educating the people there about Judaism. After the program, as the Israeli I was hosting and I were reflecting on the rabbis panel, one of the first things she said was that though she didn’t agree with all that the rabbis had to say, it was so interesting to her to hear the different viewpoints. The denominations in America are so different than the way Judaism is practiced in Israel. 

Aleeza Shoenberg:
Thursday was the day we left for our Haifa-Boston shabbaton. But the day was no less packed than usual. The day's theme was social justice. I met the Israelis at Home for Families, an organization that tries to solve the problem of homelessness in Boston. They told us about the troubles people face and how the state is required to provide people with shelter, but that those people's lives are still very difficult. We heard from one woman who was previously homeless and she explained that after living in a shelter, it was a great relief to, with some help, get her own apartment. She explained that just the feeling of homelessness is terrible and it's great seeing that there are entire organizations devoted to ridding people of that awful feeling. Still, the job is continuous and not at all easy.Writing post cards in which we asked people in the state house for the money needed, I realized that the issue of, as well as the solution to, homelessness is nowhere near simple. It takes many steps.
 At MassChallenge, we met up with the rest of the cohort. Dividing into three groups, we heard from representatives from three organizations that provide social justice to different parts of the community. By hearing about them and helping to put together packages, we were able to participate in providing to the causes that these organizations stood for. Not only was social justice a concept, but it was also put into action. At MassChallenge, startups compete to get money to support their cause. A passionate cause is key to creating a successful nonprofit. Social Justice day was integral to our growth as leaders because it opened the Bostonians and the Israelis up to real problems that face Boston on a daily basis and  to their continual forward-minded directions towards solutions. 

Isy Mekler: 

Tuesday, March 31st, the 9th and last day that the Haifa cohort was in Boston was definitely my favorite day with them.  The theme of the day was innovation.  This was the day that I along with many other Boston Diller fellows joined programming all day and we definitely chose the right day to go. 
            The day started with a Maagal Boker (morning circle) for the Israelis as every day did.  The first place we had the pleasure of visiting was District hall.  I missed this part, but from what I heard about it from other fellows and a quick internet search I can say that it is a non-profit space “where the innovation community can gather and exchange ideas” (according to their website), dedicated to the spreading of new ideas.  I heard that the space was really cool and most walls were dry-erase boards that were all covered in ideas and sketches left by other innovators.  Even the architecture of the building is striking and beautiful with a high slanted roof extending over an almost entirely glass entrance.  Then I got to join the group at our next location, the Cambridge Innovation Center (aka CIC), where we had lunch and then got a tour.  For me, every aspect of this place was incredible and every corner we rounded made me want to work there more and more.  The company is dedicated to helping startups make the necessary connections to be successful and they rent those startup companies cheap workspace. We met with Liana's friend, Stas Gayshan who is the director and he has inspiring words for us. After our tour of the CIC we spent some time at Harvard Square because the Israelis decided they hadn’t gotten enough shopping in yet.  This is when we got a tour of MIT from an Israeli student which was really special and eye opening because we learned about so many of the differences that there are between college in Israel and in America.  Once the tour came to an end we met the rest of the Americans to meet with MEET (Middle Eastern Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow) and heard about the program they run that teaches teens connected to the middle eastern conflict about programing and had dialogues about the conflict as well.  Then we learned a bit about MIT Hillel, which helps Jewish college students stay in touch with their Judaism.  At this point we took a bus back to the JCC and had our closing dinner ,which was followed by many hugs and tears as the Israelis boarded their bus and said goodbye, until we see them again in Israel.

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