Unless this is the first blog of mine that you’ve ever read, you know that I can give you a million reasons why teenagers won’t just enjoy, but benefit from attending Tel Yehudah, like connecting with nature, tackling anti-semitism, and more. Different teens get different things out of their time with us, which is one of the beauties of the experience. However, I believe there is one thing everyone who comes to TY experiences—the benefit of richer human connections.
It’s no accident, either. Our staff works hard to develop programming that supports the building and deepening of relationships, whether that’s with peers, madrichim, or other staff. I believe one of the most valuable types of relationships is between our American teens and the young Israelis who spend the summer with us.
Every winter, I travel to Israel to interview dozens of young adults for positions as madrichim for the following summer. I meet so many amazing women and men—either just going into or just coming out of the Israeli army. I love hearing each of their unique stories. I also love that I consistently hear the same refrains—that the Israelis want to feel part of a larger Jewish world, and that they want to be part of our teens’ experiences because they think it’s important for American Jewish teenagers to have a better understanding of and connection to Israel.
Having Israeli staff is a key piece of the Tel Yehudah story. It’s a great way to expose American teens to Israeli culture, to let them learn about and experience new things, and see how, with the Israelis’ army service, there are other paths than their own. More than that though, I believe it’s a great way to show our teens what we have in common.
Our American teenagers get to know and love our delegation from Israel just as they do everyone else at TY. They learn about their families and friends back home, what they studied in school, and what they do for fun. They get to know them as people, which puts a friendly, loving, human face on a country that is very far away, and makes Israel as a topic so much more than politics and opinions.
Jewish Americans and Israelis living as one community at TY, playing, singing, dancing, hiking, eating, and praying together, helps us all build important relationships. Beyond the many ways we personally benefit from genuine connections, these relationships give us faces of real people and personal stories that bring Israel much closer, help us see it in a more faceted and meaningful way, and help us—especially each time we hear a story in the news—remember that behind the headlines are real people, people we know and care about. It’s about being a family, not a fan club, and all the good and hard stuff that comes with that. It’s about beginning a human, lifetime engagement with Israel.