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Deadline nears for exchange program
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Deadline nears for exchange program

Local ninth-graders have until Monday, Dec. 16, to apply for Project Gesher, a two-year program that links them up with Israeli teens and provides a chance for both groups to meet in person in New Jersey and Israel.

A group of 24 teens will be selected from across the state. Like the first Gesher cohort — whose program lasted from December 2010 to December 2012 — they will share in local and regional activities and connect with their 24 Israeli counterparts via social media and Skype.

The Israelis will come to New Jersey next December; the Jersey kids will go to Israel at the program’s conclusion in December 2015.

Project Gesher is run under the auspices of the Jewish Agency’s Partnership2Gether project, which links the Arad/Tamar region with a cluster of Jewish federations in New Jersey and Delaware, including the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. The cost per participant is $1,400. That includes all experiences during the Project Gesher program in NJ and the 10-day trip to Israel.

According to Josh Cutler, program director for the Milton & Betty Katz JCC in Margate and one of the program leaders, the group’s activities and their travel itinerary is designed with input from the youngsters themselves. They learn about relationship building, leadership development, life in Israel, Jewish identity, and personal growth.

Lindsay Napchen, youth and teen services director and travel camp director at the JCC of Central NJ in Scotch Plains, is one of the supervisors. “During the first cohort, I witnessed an enormous amount of growth and identity-building among the participants through networks they developed on three different levels: connecting with other Jewish teens from around New Jersey, connecting with teens living in Israel, and nurturing their growing relationship with Israel,” she said. “I hope that this next cohort of Project Gesher teens will benefit from the roots we’ve already planted while creating their own branches to take the program to the next level.”

Paul Kussner, 17, a senior at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School, was in the first cohort. “It’s a great program to broaden your horizons both within the United States and in Israel,” he said.

To apply for Project Gesher, a completed application, essay, and letter of recommendation must be received by Monday, Dec. 16. Applicants will be contacted to set up an interview with a Project Gesher committee. Those interested can contact Napchen at 908-889-8800, ext. 203, or Lnapchen@jccnj.org, or they can “friend” her on Facebook at “Lindsay TeenDirector” or visit jccnj.org.

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