Connecting Israeli and North American Youth
by Shaked Mann
Kutz Participant from Israel
This post was originally published on the Kutz blog.
I was born in Israel and learned from a very young age that Israel is the Jewish State and homeland. It came as a surprise to me, therefore, to learn that there were Jewish people who lived outside Israel. I wondered why all Jews didn’t live here. Because my extended family lives in America, I even remember asking if my grandparents and the rest of our family were Jewish. My parents explained to me that of course my extended family was Jewish and that Jews lived all over the world.
As long as I can remember, my family hosted guests from abroad – friends, family and visitors to our synagogue, Kehillat Emet VeShalom Nahariya, and to Partnership 2Gether. I always enjoyed meeting our guests, especially my peers, learning about life in America and elsewhere, and sharing my experiences growing up in Israel.
Following my bar mitzvah in 2007, I applied, through the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ), to spend a summer at a URJ camp. I knew I wanted the chance to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience as an Israeli youth ambassador and was thrilled to be accepted. Oshra Naor of the IMPJ patiently and painstakingly guided all of us who were accepted to attend URJ camps that summer through the preparation process, which included several meetings during which we learned about the camps, what we should expect, and what would be expected of us.
I was assigned to Kutz Camp in Warwick, NY, where I spent an amazing summer meeting Reform youth from all over North America. Some of them had preconceptions about Israel, some of them hadn’t given Israel much thought at all and then there were others who had visited Israel and knew something about the country. In any case, it was a positive experience to interact together, discover that in addition to our heritage, we share many things in common as teenagers, and that we all are connected and part of the Jewish people.
I value the friendships I made that summer, and over the years have kept up the relationships as best as possible, first through emails and now via Facebook. Last week, one of those friends came to visit me in Nahariya after he finished his Birthright trip. I had the chance to host him in my home and our being together reminded me again of the great summer experience I had at Kutz and how it connected me, an Israeli, with Reform youth from North America.
Shaked Mann, is a longtime, active member of Kehillat Emet VeShalom and will graduate from Nahariya’s Amal Shachakim High School in June. He has postponed his army service for one year to attend Gal Pre-Army Academy of the Aharai Organization, where he will participate in community volunteer work, enrichment studies on Jewish and Israeli identity and leadership training.