This year, JUF celebrates 20 years of partnership with our Israeli Partnership Together region of Kiryat Gat, Lachish, and Shafir. Over the past two decades, hundreds of people-to-people cultural exchanges have occurred on both sides of the ocean through our many dynamic programs. One popular program, Kefiada, brings American college students to Israel to work as counselors at an English-language summer camp for Israeli children. In addition to the formal program, some of the most meaningful connections happen on the tour bus, over falafel, and at the dinner tables of Israeli host families.
Below, an Israeli host mom-and an American college student she hosted-both share what participating in this program has meant to them.
In a Kefiada counselor's own words...
By GENNA KAHN
"Kef" in Hebrew means fun-and there is no better explanation of what fun is than Kefiada-an English-speaking camp in JUF's Israel Partnership Together region of Kiryat Gat, Lachish, and Shafir.
As we pulled up to the house in Israel that would become my home for the summer I worked as a counselor, I had butterflies in my stomach. The thought of living with a host family sounded cool-but what if they weren't nice? What if they didn't eat the foods I liked? What if the kids were annoying? What if…
Those feelings instantly vanished when I walked into the most welcoming home. My host mom, Merav, her husband Ami, and their three daughters-Shira, Noa and Hila-immediately made me feel comfortable and at home. In fact, one of my favorite memories was going to a family barbecue that first week-I barely knew any Hebrew and some of the family didn't know a lot of English, but when a group of people are enjoying a beautiful day, great company and great food, the language barrier becomes a non-issue.
After a fun week of orientation with more falafel, snacks and bamba than you can imagine, we were finally ready to start camp. Teaching a new language is exciting, scary, and a lot of work. Every day at camp was different-we had swimming days, color wars, magic days, and so many more unique and fun ways that incorporated learning English.
I was amazed at the comfort, hospitality, and pride that the people I worked with had. Our Israeli co-counselors made sure that we had a great time, even outside of camp. Beyond teaching, as a group we saw the country together. We took jeep rides through central Israel, we spent a night cooking poyke (Israeli stew) on the beach together and we even traveled through the Golan. These people became my best friends and the constant support that truly helped shape the summer that I had.
When I began the summer, I was hoping to meet some interesting people, get more teaching experience, and have some fun in Israel. What I got was so much more. Kefiada helped strengthen my relationship with an amazing country and multiplied the connections and friendships that I have here. Although I worked in the Kefiada program for six weeks on a volunteer basis, I feel like I was overpaid because what I gained that summer helped to shape who I am and who I hope to become.
Genna Kahn, originally from Deerfield, has expanded on her summer teaching English as a Kefiada counselor, and is now teaching English for 10 months in Rishon LeZion as an Israel Teaching Fellow.
In a host mother's words…
By MERAV LIPIK
In the words of an Israeli host mom…
The chance to get to know someone very well, and the opportunity to make someone part of the family, even for a brief period, was a special experience. We are excited, every time, to get to know and to experience the students who stay with us through Kefiada. We make an effort to spend time together, to prepare good food and to make sure that everything is comfortable and pleasant. We usually try to invite everyone for a shakshuka evening - it's a sort of tradition.
To date, we have hosted nine students and they were all special and charming. We struck up wonderful relationships while they were with us, and our girls always gained a temporary big sister for the summer-which is an amazing cultural experience for them and of course helps cement their English skills far beyond what they are learning at camp. Sometimes the relationship develops into something much deeper and real, for which we are deeply thankful. My daughter, Noga, celebrated her bat mitzvah recently and we received good wishes from almost all of the girls who have stayed with us. I consider everyone we have hosted to be my adopted daughters, and am so happy to have had the opportunity to be a part of this program. I know my family has been a big winner from participating!
Merav Lipik was born and raised in Kiryat Gat, Israel. In addition to having been a host mom to nine Kefiada counselors, she is married and the mother of three daughters.
This was originally printed in JUF News.