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Three-year program to help teens build ‘bridges’ to Israel
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Three-year program to help teens build ‘bridges’ to Israel

Judah Axelrod of Fanwood
Judah Axelrod of Fanwood

Teens from across New Jersey will rendezvous in real time — for the first time — with their Israeli partners in a new venture aimed at building a “living bridge” among the youth.

The teens will chat with the Israelis via Skype on a big screen on Sunday, March 27, at Rider University’s Student Recreation Center.

The cyberspace meeting officially launches the three-year Gesher Project, pairing 20 young Israelis with 22 ninth-graders from five NJ JCCs — including the JCC of Central NJ in Scotch Plains.

The program will include monthly Shabbatons for the NJ teens, Facebook and video conferencing connecting the two groups, and workshops, speakers, and discussions on Israel-related topics. The teens will eventually visit each other’s country.

“This program creates a real living bridge opportunity between our teens and Israeli teens,” said Mallory Saks, director of youth and teen services at the Central JCC. “I think it’s really important for the teens of our community to have an opportunity to travel to Israel and meet their Israeli peers. Not only will they learn and grow together with their Israeli buddies, but they will also grow together as a New Jersey group spanning five communities.”

The Israeli teens are drawn from the Arad/Tamar region, the sister community of the NJ-Delaware Partnership 2000 consortium of Jewish federations. Run by the Jewish Agency, “P2K” connects Jewish communities in the Diaspora with Israeli towns and regions, primarily in the Negev and Galilee regions.

The other Project Gesher participants are from the JCC of Greater Monmouth County, the JCC of Princeton Mercer Bucks, the Betty and Milton Katz JCC in Cherry Hill, and the Milton and Betty Katz JCC in Margate.

The Gesher program begins with monthly Shabbatons over the first year, rotating between the five NJ locations and NJ Y Camps. During the weekend learning sessions, the NJ teens will connect via Facebook, Skype, and video conferencing with the Arad teens.

During Hanukka 2011, the 20 Arad teens will visit New Jersey, where they will be hosted by the families of the NJ youth. The combined group will tour the five communities (as well as New York and Philadelphia) for 10 days. They will partake in community service projects planned in each of the participating communities.

During year three, the NJ teens will travel to Israel and spend time with their overseas counterparts in the Arad/Tamar region. The American teens will stay with their Arad peers and their families, and will perform several community service projects in the region.

“It’s been a dream of mine to run a program like this since I started at the JCC three years ago,” Saks said.

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