On the fifth day of Hanukka, Keyport High School played host to four unusual guests. Four Israeli teens from the Arad/Dead Sea region of Israel spoke to students at the public school, which has a mostly non-Jewish population.
The teens, residents of the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County’s sister community through Partnership 2000, were in the county the week of Hanukka as part of a federation-sponsored teen exchange program.
They visited public schools, synagogue schools, and the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Monmouth County and were hosted by area families. They also enjoyed shopping trips, a Neshama Carlebach concert, and a sightseeing tour of New York City.
The experience was memorable for all. “Although we knew little about each other before we met, we realized we had so much in common — our week together was too short!” wrote Alyssa Hollander, the daughter of one of the host families, in an e-mail to NJJN. “We look forward to seeing each other again soon — in Israel. We totally bonded.”
Federation executive director Howard Gases said, “I especially want to thank the four cosponsoring synagogues through our Commission on Jewish Education for their support of this program — Temple Beth Miriam, Temple Beth Ahm, Monmouth Reform Temple, and Temple Shaari Emeth.
“Without their time and effort, especially from the educational directors and the host families, this program could not take place. I hope next year more synagogues are able to participate.”
During the Keyport visit, Judy Levine, principal of the school at Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls, asked a group of students in one history class what they knew about Israel.
“Jesus,” said one.
“I don’t think they speak English,” said another student.
“Isn’t there a lot of wars?” asked another.
Chen Avraham, 17, of Arad told her American counterparts that like teens in the United States, she enjoys going on Facebook, playing basketball, and watching TV shows such as Friends. But while the kids in Keyport are thinking about college, she is looking ahead to serving in the Israel Defense Forces.
“It’s an experience that unifies our country because you’re serving with people all over Israel,” she said. “Israel has given me so much, and I’m ready to give back.”
Michal Weisman, 17, who was born in the former Soviet Union, dazzled the students with Israel’s technological advances.
“All the things you have inside your phone” come from Israel, as do such technologies as instant messaging and the PillCam, a swallowable capsule that has its own diagnostic video camera, she said.
Neria Aber, 17, a resident of Kibbutz Ein Gedi in the Judean Desert, said her home boasts a view of the Dead Sea and a botanical garden, not to mention some wild animals — including a leopard which she believes ate her cat.
Nitzan Rubin, 16, a student at Arad’s Democratic School, said she does yoga and takes harmonica lessons in addition to studying English and history.
The Keyport students peppered the Israelis with questions and wanted to learn some Hebrew. Their first lesson: the expression “Sababa,” or “It’s cool!”
Neria said she was “speechless” about her visit to the United States. “Everything here is amazing,” she told NJJN. “I thought Tel Aviv was big.”
And the Israeli visitors were grateful to their Monmouth County host families. “We don’t know how to thank them,” Chen told NJJN.
The feeling was mutual.
“We had a wonderful experience with Chen and the other teens — in essence they were our children too,” Barbara Hollander wrote NJJN. “This one-to-one connection has brought us and our children closer to Israel, which is really the purpose.”