Gann Students and Israeli Peers Share a Week of Fun and Introspection
Gann Academy recently hosted 33 Israeli 11th graders, their principal, and two teachers during the mifgash, the annual encounter between students from Gann and Ironi Hey High School in Haifa.
But this year there was a twist that made the visit even more meaningful: the teenagers already knew each other, thanks to last spring’s Israel trip—myIsrael— which, for the first time, sent 10th, not 11th graders, abroad. And more Gann students than ever participated.
“Our hope is that through the mifgash experience, Gann and Ironi Hey students will deepen their connections with one another and will develop a more sophisticated understanding of both Israeli and Jewish American identity,” explains Dean of Jewish Education Rabbi Jethro Berkman. And, as with any exchange program, myIsrael and its postscript, mifgash, promote one of Gann’s educational goals—to create young people who are at home in different languages, cultures, and countries.
The visit was equal parts fun and communal learning — lots of wrestling with questions such as: What does it mean to be an American Jewish teenager? An Israeli teen? Where do those identities intersect and diverge? And how do American Jews come to terms with the diversity of Jewish values, ideas, and expressions in their country?
It was a jam-packed four days, including sightseeing, panel discussions, a hike in Borderland State Park, a visit to Brandeis University, and volunteer work at Mass Audubon and NewBridge on the Charles, a senior living community. The Israelis also attended classes with their hosts, and together they created an art installation exploring issues of identity.
Gann 11th grader Tal Chafetz, whose family hosted three Israeli teens, says that while the Gann and Ironi Hey students had much in common, one thing perplexed the Israelis. “A lot of the conversation was about why we stress so much about college. There, they go into the army straight from high school, so there’s not the same amount of worrying.”
Was the mifgash a success? You bet. “As the week unfolded, I saw Gann and Ironi Hey students laughing together, learning together, and doing the hard work of understanding their similarities and differences,” comments Rabbi Berkman. “As I watched them hug and say good-bye, I could see the strength of the connections.”myIsrael was co-created by Gann, Israeli educational experts and staff from Ironi Hey High School. CJP’s Boston-Haifa Partnership, which has been a leader in fostering connections between young Jews in the Boston area and Israel, has been an important partner in making this program a reality.