Jewish Journal Staff
When Liat Cook said a tearful goodbye to her American friends last summer at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, she thought they would need to stay in touch online.
Seeing them again last week seemed like a dream come true for both groups.
Each year, the Youth to Israel program takes teens on a free trip from the North Shore to Israel where they meet and travel with Israeli teens, forming strong bonds of friendship. For the last three years, the Israeli teens have been part of the Young Ambassador’s Program at a high school in Petach-Tikvah. This past summer, 100 North Shore teens joined 35 Israeli teens.
Last week, 25 of those Israeli teens, along with nine adults, visited the North Shore, the first time the Israelis from the Y2I trip ever came here.
Cook, who met the Y2I teens during the 2011 and the 2012 trips, said it was an “amazing experience both times,” and it was such a “good feeling” to be in the U.S. with her American friends. She stayed with Anna O’Gorman in Swampscott. Ron Nissim, 15, said, “It is so amazing how the North Shore area welcomed us with open arms. I hope we will talk on Facebook for the rest of our lives and see them again soon. This trip will make the bonds stronger.”
For Nissim, who stayed with Sam Feinstein in Peabody, it was an opportunity to deepen his relationship with Feinstein, who had been on a different bus in the summer.
Debbie Coltin, executive director of the Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation that sponsors Y2I and hosted the Israeli group, said the only problem with the visit was that it was too short.
At a Chanukah party held on December 13 at Marblehead’s Temple Emanu-El, she said, “This is so joyous.You can’t imagine the joy we have this week to reunite with Y2I alumni.”
She thanked them in advance for their upcoming service in the Israeli Defense Forces and lauded the strength of the partnership between Y2I and the Young Ambassador Program in Petach Tikvah.
“These beautiful young people are the future of Israel,” Coltin said.
The group traveled with the principal and vice-principal of their school, the deputy mayor of Petatch Tikvah, a group of guides and parents.
Eliran Douenias, vice-principal, explained that some of their trip included tours of New York and Boston, as well as meeting with the Israeli foreign service officers in New York. There, they discussed ideas for peace, Israeli concerns and they learned techniques for best representing Israel. They toured two mosques in New York and lit Chanukah candles in one of them.
“This is the highlight of the trip for the kids,” he said pointing to the visit to the North Shore. “Y2I is an amazing trip for us, too.”
Rachel Amrani, principal, said through translation, that the group stayed in touch during the operation in Gaza, and the Israeli teens had a lot of support from their American friends.
“The main idea for our trip here is to help you maintain your Jewish identity. It is an honor to be here and to speak to American Jews,” she said.
Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll visited the Lappin Foundation offices on December 14 to greet the delegation and welcome them to Salem. She explained a bit of Salem’s history to the group before they set off on their tour. She also chatted with Yakov ben Simhon, deputy mayor of Petach-Tikvah, noting that they faced similar issues such as finding enough money for education, and how to best integrate immigrant populations into the schools.
Many of the Israelis had a great time buying warm clothes, especially silly hats, but they were hoping to see some snow.
During their stay on the North Shore, the Israelis were hosted by families, including a full weekend of free time with their American friends.
“Families were excited to host the Israelis and to have the opportunity to get to know them. American teens were excited to share their families and friends with the Israelis,” said Coltin. “I hope we can do it again.”