Twelve local residents were able to forge a connection with students from Israel without ever having to leave the comfort of their own homes.
The 12 participated in the Israel Connect program, run by the Chabad Jewish Center of Monroe, which used Skype to pair local residents with Israeli youngsters interested in learning English.
The Monroe program received $2,500 from the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey to cover most of the costs of tech support.
“Federation saw in this program a way to forge meaningful, intergenerational connections that connect us, locally and in Israel,” said Impact Committee cochair Adrienne Ross.
“Not everybody can go to Israel or may not be able to give money, but everybody can give their time,” said Monroe Chabad codirector Chanie Zaklikovsky, who ran the local version of the four-year-old program.
Zaklikovsky went to each participant’s home to set them up with the appropriate curriculum. Afterward, volunteers worked face to face with the Israelis, who ranged from elementary to high school age. In the teaching and mentoring process, many formed a lasting bond with their Israeli charges.
“Monroe was the perfect community for this program,” said Zaklikovsky. “There are a lot of people here who love Israel and feel a very strong connection to its people.”
Most of the volunteers were residents of the township’s many adult communities. One volunteer, Edward Thompson, even went to Israel with his wife, Dorothy, in March, where they met his 11-year-old student, Talia Picard, and her father for dinner. She attends school in the town of Yerucham in the Negev.
“It was great,” said Thompson. “It was like meeting my granddaughter. She told me that I was her American saba [grandfather], and she was my Israeli nehida [granddaughter]. This program is so important for our Israeli-American relationship, and it should be continued, and with adequate funding, it could be expanded to involve many more people.”
In a thank you note sent by Talia to her new saba, she wrote, “Thank you for talking with me. And you’re very patient. You are a good person. I love you very much and appreciate everything you have done for me.”
Gail Shinberg said she and her student, Avihai Buskila, who attends Amit Amichai, a boys’ high school in Rehovot, found the learning went both ways.
“Personally I found the program invaluable,” Shinberg said. “I learned a lot about Israel that I did not know and a lot of Jewish history that I didn’t know. I found it a very satisfying experience to communicate with a young Israeli who was able to talk about his family, himself, and his dreams.”
In addition to the subject matter, Shinberg said, the two talked about life in the United States, and Avihai questioned her about her feelings toward Israel, asking why she had not made aliya.
“We have developed a nice relationship that is continuing over the summer,” said Shinberg.
In a note addressed to “amazing Gail,” Avihai said, “I had so much fun to talk with you. My English improved a lot thanks to you. I believe your Hebrew will improve a lot…. When you come to Israel you must come to our yeshiva.”