Summer Friends, Closer Than Ever

Two friends separated by nearly 6,000 miles began their senior year in high school recently – Leigh Kesselman at Cheltenham High School and Abi Landsman at Kibbutz Yavne in Ashdod, both 17 – feeling close because of the summer they shared.

Part of the Mifgash program ("encounter" in Hebrew), they participated in a contingent of 12 Israeli kids and 10 from the Greater Philadelphia area who visited each others' countries, and were hosted by each others' families during July and early August.

The program is sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Partnership 2000, which connects the local Jewish community and the Israeli communities of Netivot/ Sedot Negev, and the Community Youth Initiative of the Jewish Community Centers.

Kesselman said she got involved because she "loves meeting new friends. Also, my mom is Israeli, and because my family visits often, I feel so attached to the culture and people of Israel.

"But I really saw it all again through first-time eyes traveling to Masada, Jerusalem and the Dead Sea with people my age who had never been to Israel before."

Landsman, her counterpart, added that for her part, in the United States, "the first day was so much fun." I said: 'Wow! I'm in America.' I had worried about about what to say and whether we would get along.

"Then, straightaway, everything clicked.

"And the sites? It was like the movies, seeing the White House and the Washington Monument. I would have liked to stay longer."

In Israel, climbing Masada was the ultimate moment for the teen: "We were pushed to the limits in Outward Bound-type hiking, climbing and rappelling. We cheered for each other and yelled, 'See what you can do – go, go, go!' "

Education is key to the Mifgash experience, whether it's learning each other's language or visiting various synagogues.

"I did not know about the different streams of Judaism in the States before the trip," said Landsman."Being Orthodox, I couldn't relate to a woman rabbi.

"But even if I don't agree, it was an education."

And it was an education for Kesselman to visit soldiers at a watch tower six kilometers from the Gaza strip. "We baked them cakes for Shabbat and delivered them Friday morning."

While the consecutive trips created a bond between the teenagers, both young women pointed out differences, such as Israeli kids growing up quicker because they have to do national service in the army.

On the other hand, they said all teens like to hang out with their friends, listen to music, watch TV and just joke around.

"We're more the same than different – and really good friends" stressed Landsman.

Kesselman, who said that she "pulled people to go on Mifgash," told one friend: "Go! It will help you figure out who you are."

To learn more about the program, call 215-832-0536.



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