As Jews living in the Diaspora we often see only the manufactured images of Israel portrayed throughout the media and Jewish day schools. The Diller Teen Fellows Israel Summer Seminar, a three-week trip to Israel that included a stay with an Israeli host family, meetings with international Diller teens and multiple travel days managed to relay the authentic Israel and give us the opportunity to cultivate personal feelings about and toward it.
This was done in a hands-on, educational manner that invoked all the main principles and pillars of Diller. These pillars consist of leadership, Israel, Jewish identity and tikkun olam. Thus, during the trip, we focused on the major Diller ideal of a connection to Israel by utilizing what we have learned from the other pillars.
One of the most unique aspects of the Diller Teen Fellows program is its relationship to Israel. This takes the form of each non-Israeli cohort having a partner cohort from Israel. For us Pittsburgh fellows, we were matched with the Karmiel-Misgav cohort. This partnership allows us not only to experience an outside view of Israel and its culture and history, but also to understand day-to-day life and connect to normal teens our own age.
In the spring, our Israeli partnership cohort came and stayed with us, experiencing local Pittsburgh life. Now we had the opportunity to do the same in Karmiel and Misgav. Exploring a concentrated local community in Israel while also staying with a host in the area showed us an authentic portrayal of real life in Karmiel and Misgav, giving us opportunity to compare and contrast it to our community at home.
The week with the Israeli cohort — community week — was not purely fun. The activities, bonding times and educational programs were not planned for us by staff or a curriculum. We had to bring about and improve upon our leadership skills and plan the entire week ourselves. This ranged from deciding the general activities we would participate in, to planning out specific programs, contacting places to volunteer or scheduler tours and even organizing what food we would eat that day. Thus, throughout community week we managed to constructively utilize two of the Diller program’s pillars: Israel and leadership.
The connection with Israel was created through the bonds created with Israeli teens, staying with an Israeli family and by coming to think of the host city as a second home. The leadership aspect was accomplished by having us plan the entire week and take the initiative to make our programs as fun, interesting and educational as possible. Some of the activities that we managed to participate in included kayaking in the Jordan River, helping to build a wall that would protect Israeli farmland, touring a religious craftsman town, going to an IDF base and enjoying the world-renowned Karmiel Dance Festival.
The Summer Seminar also includes large gatherings of the Diller Teen fellows. One of the program’s highlights is how it addresses not only the Jewish community in Israel, but also the Diaspora. In addition to many discussions on this topic at our Diller meetings, our Israel trip included an international meetup. Kennes, a meetup between the Diller teens of the United States, Canada and South Africa, was a chance to see a variety of Jews and learn more about international Jewry and to compare our Pittsburgh community with ones from around the world. While at Kennes, we were joined by about 200 others and broke into small “color” groups. Everyone had one other person from Pittsburgh, and in their designated group were joined by 20 new faces, each containing a pair from Johannesburg, Chicago, Boston, Miami, Montreal, Metro-West, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Baltimore and Toronto. Each year, this group gets bigger; next year, two new additions to the Diller family will be from Melbourne, Australia and Cape Town, South Africa. Although this was the shortest section in the Summer Seminar, everyone still made the most of it. We got to make new relationships, go to interesting discussions and participate in evening programs. Kennes was a chance to test out social and leadership skills. We began talking with new people and really learning what it means to be a Jew in different parts of the world. The people we met had different views and experiences, and coming together was an amazing experience. Although we were sad to leave, Kennes ended with half of the Diller Teen fellows hiking Masada, truly an unforgettable experience.
Congress, another chance for international relationships, included everyone in Diller. Five-hundred teens, coordinators, junior staff and other mentors were joined together and only had one thing in common: We are all Jewish. This part of the Diller Summer Seminar was the chance of a lifetime. When is there going to be another time when you get to eat lunch with someone from Israel, Canada, the United States and South Africa around one table? Congress, which lasted for one week, was a very big part of our experience. We got to do many things, including hearing influential speakers who talked in small groups about their own Jewish identity and answered questions about their lives. Many good conversations were to be had during this time, as we both listened and spoke about our journeys in Israel and communities back home. In addition to all the educational and leadership programs we participated in, we also had some free time, which also brought some of the best memories. A big hit was going to the store at Givat Haviva, the Congress location, and buying ice cream bars with other Diller Teens. We all agreed that ice cream tastes better when you eat it in the sweltering heat of the Israeli sun.
Once a relationship with the people and culture of Israel had been established, we needed to institute the same connection to the physical land. This was done through travel days. During these days we toured around historical landmarks, crucial cities and beautiful landscapes. This allowed us to connect the land with pleasant and meaningful experiences. What struck us the most was the diversity. For example, we began the trip in Ein Gedi, where we were surrounded by desert and had a breathtaking view of the Dead Sea. We took advantage of the beautiful surroundings by waking up at 5 o’clock and watching the sunrise, which was stunning. Jerusalem was another place that we went to. We went to Har Herzl, the national cemetery, and Yad Vashem. This was both an educational and emotional journey. We all learned more about the importance of Israel, and this is something that we brought back to Pittsburgh. Ending the tour of Jerusalem with Shabbat at the Kotel was an experience we will never forget. Singing the prayers together with Jews from around the world really brought a new connection to an old place. In addition to the travel we did as a Pittsburgh cohort, we also went to Tel Aviv at the end of our Israel Summer Seminar with our Karmiel-Misgav partnership. We got to tour around the city on a scavenger hunt, where we saw large buildings, many stores and cool art. Our group also went to the beach, and swimming was so relaxing after being in the hot sun. This was definitely a good way to end our trip, as we all got to have a few more fun days before we said goodbye.
The Israel Summer Seminar was an unforgettable event that will be cherished for many years. This trip strengthened the bonds that we had with each other, with our partnership, other Jewish teens and Israel. We all grew a lot, stepped out of our comfort zones and really put ourselves out there experiencing a new culture. Although we began the seminar expecting to have a trip of a lifetime, we came home with much more than that — new friends, new skills and, most importantly, a new home in Israel.
Zoe Papernick is a junior at The Ellis School, and Noa Wollstein is a junior at Pittsburgh Allderdice.