For the past year, eighth-graders from the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Monmouth County in Marlboro and a group of their peers in Israel have been working together on a long-distance environmental awareness program.
On a trip to Israel April 9-22, the students finally got to meet face-to-face, getting together in a supermarket in the desert town of Arad to monitor products for their eco-friendliness.
The event was the culmination of the Eco Connection program, which brings together 12 schools linked through the Arad-Tamar/New Jersey Delaware Partnership 2000 program.
The SSDS students, on the annual eighth-grade trip to Israel, met students from Arad’s ORT School at the “Mega Bool” Supermarket in the Arad industrial zone. There they explored which products were made locally and which had traveled the furthest.
The students translated for one another the English and Hebrew product labels and returned to the ORT School afterward for refreshments. Within 24 hours, they had uploaded dozens of pictures of their new friends to their Facebook profiles.
SSDS student Joseph Betesh enjoyed the in-person encounters.
“Arad was a lot of fun,” he said. “It was nice to meet other kids from Israel.”
“There is a face behind the names,” agreed Schechter head of school Yoti Yarhi, who accompanied the group. “They met new friends” — through the Eco program, the kids were able to make “the connection.”
“We’re happy that the Partnership was able to help our Israeli and American teenagers develop good friendships in a single two-hour meeting,” said Sviva Israel executive director Carmi Wisemon. “Turning that short meeting into a long-term relationship has been based on our ability to create a common language and interest between the students, while forging a common sense of purpose before they ever meet.”
Wiseman said that many of the Arad students told her at the end of the day: “We had such a great time with the students from America; when are they coming again?”
The Americans also spent a Shabbat in Jerusalem and a Shabbat in Eilat, slept in a Bedouin tent, and marked Yom Hazikaron at a naval base in Haifa and Yom Ha’atzmaut in Tel Aviv.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip,” said SSDS student Melanie Werthan.
After learning about Israel for so long, said her classmate Gabby Teaman, “I think it was a really good end to our graduation year.”