When Mindy Seiver hosted two Israeli women in her home for a week in 1997, she never expected to eventually consider retiring there with them.
Her 20-year friendship with Anat Kafri and Ronny Marx Danai began as a coincidence, but one they are grateful for.
Seiver’s daughters, Erika and Ashley, were attending the Klein JCC Summer Day Camp during their elementary school years, which had a new program that took on Israeli exchange students to work at the camp as counselors.
But there was one requirement — they needed housing. As it turned out, Seiver was the only parent who volunteered for the weeklong exchange, so she took on both Danai and Kafri.
The two young women, who were in their early 20s then, didn’t know each other prior.
“I volunteered thinking it would be a great experience for my daughters and for my family,” Seiver said. But the single week stretched out to an entire summer, as the trio meshed on multiple levels.
“We instantly bonded on an adult level, they bonded with my children on a big sister-type level, and it was an incredible relationship,” she said.
Seiver enjoyed learning from the pair, who taught her family about Israeli culture, food and life on a kibbutz. In return, she showed them around Philadelphia, New York City and down the shore.
Kafri and Danai said they were interested in Jewish life in the U.S., and their open conversations about life in both countries formed a deep bond, one so strong they were surprised they weren’t actually related.
“We had such a great time and we have many great memories,” Kafri and Danai wrote. “The Seiver family has treated us almost like we were Ashley and Erika’s older sisters, and we truly felt like we were part of the family.”
The end of the summer brought some tears for the newfound friends, but their friendship didn’t end there.
Seiver and her family visited Israel for the first time in 2001 — also a celebration for her daughters’ B’nai Mitzvot — where they were greeted at the airport with a huge sign by Danai, Kafri and their families.
“We expected to see them in Israel, but we didn’t expect that they would treat us the way they did,” she said, where they had home-cooked meals and the opportunity to see Israel from an elevated perspective.
The Seivers returned again in 2005, by which point Kafri had married. They met her new husband and his family, a “warm and sweet” experience.
Seiver thought that would be the last time she saw her friends, but Kafri and her husband Dudi settled on a belated honeymoon to Costa Rica — with the Seivers.
“That was how they chose to spend their honeymoon,” she laughed. “But it was interesting to see them out of the country and not in my similar surroundings.”
Their Israeli counterparts have revisited Philadelphia a few times, too, and Seiver’s daughters returned on Birthright, where they each extended their stays with Kafri and Danai’s families.
“They took care of my daughters like they were their own,” Seiver said.
Now, this extended family has expanded: Kafri and Danai each have three children of their own — some now the ages Erika and Ashley were when Kafri and Danai met them — and the Seivers met them this past December during another vacation to Israel.
Seiver relishes their memories together and the fact that Kafri and Danai have watched her daughters grow up.
They recollected those times on the most recent trip while pursuing a photo album, with memories of playing dress up with the young Seivers, or Kafri and Danai joking with them that lightning bugs in Israel glowed in different colors — all the more reason for them to want to visit.
“Honestly, I feel like I could retire there,” Seiver admitted. “I feel a connection not only to the country and the land but … if I would move there, I would have this family.”
“The connection with the Seiver family gave us a feeling of something that is bigger than just us. A feeling of a special bond of Judaism,” wrote Kafri and Danai, who each live near Haifa and Eilat, respectively. “When we first came, two young girls who had just finished the army service, it was important to understand what it is like to be a Jewish family outside of Israel. And now that we are parents, and our kids have met the Seivers, we feel so much pride to be a part of this experience.”
So what’s next? Another group vacation this summer, the country to be determined.
“We’ll be friends for life,” Seiver said. “If this can inspire someone else to open their heart or open their house to volunteer — you never know what you’re going to get. I couldn’t have paid for this experience. It was just incredible to be able to have this.”
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