We’re celebrating the 20th year of The Jewish Federation’s Global Teen Twinning Program! This life-changing program brings Israel education to life by taking it out of the textbook and into the country itself.
The only initiative in existence that connects schools in Los Angeles with schools in Tel Aviv, Israel, and Vilnius, Lithuania, this powerful program has supported more than 60,000 middle school and high school students, parents, and faculty through reciprocal student delegation exchanges, jointly prepared curricula, and teacher training. Today, there are 20 participating schools in Los Angeles and 20 participating schools abroad.
In honor of the program’s 20th year, we will highlight alumni through a series of blogs. Check out the first blog below, an interview with paired participants Miki Goldenfeld and Jason Tiger (2008 Program Alumni).
What was the most memorable experience of your Twinning journey?
JASON: Meeting my Israeli Twin Miki from across the world who I had only spoken to over the phone, texted with, and corresponded with by hand-written mail was surreal. I remember it was a little awkward. After our first few conversations, though, I got to know Miki and it suddenly became clear to me that he was from across the world but in a similar life stage. It was a comforting feeling.
MIKI: I think that the most memorable experience for me was Thanksgiving dinner in Los Angeles. In Israel, you don’t say that you are Jewish — you say that you are Israeli. It’s your nationality. In the States, I saw a different approach — being Jewish is your religion and being American is your nationality. This was different but also beautiful and encouraging — to be Jewish and part of another nation.
On Thanksgiving, my host family has a tradition of playing bingo, and the prizes are small, mundane things like soap and hand towels. They do it to show that it doesn’t matter what you get — it’s to be thankful that you are lucky enough to get something and that you have a good life. I think it is a beautiful tradition.
What led you to participate in Twinning, and how did your time in the program impact your high school experience?
JASON: I originally decided to participate in the Twinning program because I knew that there would be a trip to Israel involved. I can say now that it became so much more than that.
The Twinning experience taught me to be more independent and responsible. Traveling anywhere without your parents will allow you to think in a completely different way. It also allowed me to meet new people that I may not have met otherwise. Before the program, I had my group of friends and that was kind of it. After the program, I had bonded with someone from across the world and other kids from my high school, and I got to know teachers who didn’t teach the classes I had taken. Overall, meeting new people gave me a happier and more social high school experience.
MIKI: I decided to participate in the program because I was curious to learn about living as a Jew in a non-Jewish country. But, I also kept in mind that living in the United States as a Jewish person is different than living elsewhere, such as in France, Spain, or Russia.
I think it gave me a new perspective about what it means to be a Zionist. It is not only about voting in elections, but it is also about what we choose to buy (local products or foreign products) and speaking out about current events.
How did the experience of living with your host family (and hosting your buddy) impact your views of the global Jewish community?
JASON: The experience I had with my host family and my family hosting my buddy taught me that you can really get to know people by meeting their family. My buddy has a friend for life.
What words of wisdom or advice would you share with teens who are slated to participate in The Jewish Federation’s Global Teen Twinning program? Why should others participate in the program?
JASON: Be completely open, try not to judge, ask questions, and have fun! You should participate in the program because it will make you independent, give you a broader perspective on people from around the world, and connect you closer to Judaism.
MIKI: I think that the most important advice is to come open-minded to fully enjoy the experience.
I think students should participate in the program because it is always important to understand the different ways of life and varied views of other people regarding our religion and countries (Israel and the United States). It is also a way to invite more people to be part of the discussion in Israel — at the end of the day, all Jews are welcome in Israel and to make Aliyah!
To learn more about The Jewish Federation’s Global Teen Twinning Program, please email Miri Ketayi, Director, Israel and International Education Programs at The Jewish Federation, at MKetayi@JewishLA.org.