Fifty Teens Have a ‘Mifgash’ (encounter) in Israel

Original Article Published On The Connecticut Jewish Ledger

Fifty 10th and 11th graders from across the Southern New England region had a true “mifgash” (an encounter) with each other and with Israeli peers from their Partnership 2000 Afula-Gilboa community during a recent nine-day SNEC Mifgash Israel trip.

The teens are participants in high school programs such as MAKOM (Greater New Haven Jewish Federation), Merkaz (The Jewish Center for Community Services of Eastern Fairfield), Yachad (The Greater Hartford Jewish Federation), and Kulanu (United Federation of Greater Stamford, New Canaan and Darien). Three students from the Federation-Jewish Communities of Western Connecticut also participated in the mifgash, which ran from Dec. 27-Jan. 4.

Adam Tager of West Hartford had his chance to write in the “trip blog” of the Israel Experts website ( soon after he arrived in Israel.

“It is amazing to be in Israel. There is the universal feeling of home and hospitality, although for most people including myself the thought of actually being in Israel after all this waiting and anticipation has not sunken in yet.” By evening, Adam knew he was in Israel. After returning from the Mediterranean Sea near Atlit,

Tager writes, “We got out under the full moon and the stars with the lights of Israel off in the distance. With the water advancing and retreating on the sands we said the Shehecheyanu and then we knew we are really in Israel.”

According to Dr. Arnold Carmel, principal of New Haven’s MAKOM and SNEC Mifgash coordinator, “The objective was not a trip in the traditional sense-it was a true mifgash-an interactive meeting of 10th and 11th graders from our region with people their own age from Afula-Gilboa.”

Audrey Lichter, director of Greater Hartford’s Yachad program, observed, “For some, it was not what they expected. Instead of simply doing Masada and other tourist destinations, the participants had a chance to share experiences and conversations. The purpose of the trip was to establish a living bridge, to connect in a deep way.”

Mifgash participants spent six nights in homes of peers from the

Afula-Gilboa region, and the Israelis joined the American group for Shabbat in Jerusalem.

“The heart of the experience was home hospitality,” stressed Stacey Battat, dean of students for New Haven’s MAKOM and the person responsible for running the Department of Jewish Education Israel Desk. Participants stayed with families in moshavim, kibbutzim and other homes throughout the Afula-Gilboa region.

Said Lichter, “I visited the home and family of a young emissary who stayed in our home two years ago. It felt like family. Their daughter was in my house, and my daughter stayed in their house when she was in Israel.”

The Americans had an opportunity to experience such every day routines as attending school.

“Visiting the school was cool,” noted Jacob Chatinover, a 10th grader at Hall High School in West Hartford. “The students and teachers seemed very friendly and relaxed. The teachers didn’t mind if you are late (once in a while), and the students call the teachers by their first names. And the students aren’t worried about AP tests and college applications. They will be going off to the army and won’t worry about college for several years. It really put things in perspective!”

Shai Silverman, a junior at the Hopkins School in New Haven, had a similar experience during his visit to a kibbutz school.

“The school was beautiful, and they had a building for each grade,” reports Silverman. “This particular school was very different because there is a farm on the school and each student is required to help around the farm as part of the curriculum.”

Jaclyn Siegel of Bridgeport was impressed by the opportunities to interact with officials from Afula-Gilboa and with Israeli Arabs. She noted in a blog entry, “Today we spent time at the home of the vice head of the Gilboa Municipality. This was such an amazing and unique experience…I didn’t have any idea that we would be spending time in an Israeli-Arab village. It was not at all what you would see on TV. The house was unbelievably gorgeous. The family was so nice and greeted us with a kosher snack on their balcony. They even gave us gold-trimmed glasses to drink from! It was very interesting to me to hear him say that he hopes for peace in Israel – it surprised me but I am glad. It was an experience I will never forget.”

Matt Kochen, also a tenth grader at Hall High School, said, “I thought it would be a little more dangerous. I felt really safe and realize that the

media blows things out of proportion.” Kochen enjoyed getting to “experience real life” in Israel, and “meeting new people.”

While Chatinover noted that “getting to know the culture and getting a feel for the country” were the “focal points” of the trip, he also enjoyed the time spent getting to better know teenagers from his own community and from throughout Southern New England.

The group members have already begun acting as spokespeople and shlichim by sharing their impressions and thoughts at religious schools, synagogues, and Federations throughout the region. Chatinover and Kochen spent a recent day at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Hartford.

“Our responsibility is to educate,” said Kochen. “We were telling the students why they should go to Israel!” added Chatinover.

In a letter to Battat the day after returning home, one female participant wrote, “I will spread the mission of peace, I will spread the truth and reality of the people and culture of Israel, and this is what I have been thinking about for the past couple of hours since I returned home. These past ten days have given me everything I could have wanted. I gained friendship, family, and a homeland, in the land of my people.”

The wind blows harder,

Yet I stand strong,

I am a Jew

Israel is my homeland

Where else can we belong?

My heart is here

My spirit lives in the mountain breeze

My soul bathes in the Kinneret

Overlooking Syria, Lebanon and my homeland

The wind blows loudly

Howling in my ears

Slapping my cheeks

Bringing tears to my eyes

Pushing back my chest

My legs do not falter

I will not fall in vain

I am a Jew

Israel is my homeland

Has the spirit of Jews

The endless hope courage, deep affliction, passionate love, ironic humor

Filled with stories and the simultaneous joy and tragedy of humankind


And keep the heritage, dignity, traditions and Israeli spirit alive.

Be Strong

We face the ongoing battle against the winds of conformity, fully and proudly.

I am a Jewish girl.

I love deeply, suffer greatly, and have G-d’s breath in me.

I belong in Israel – my homeland.

— Melanie Wise of Hamden

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