by Elisa Deener-Agus

I just got an email from the administration at Kehillah Schechter Academy (formerly South Area Solomon Schechter Day School), warning the 8th grade parents that our children might come home very emotional today as their Israeli counterparts from Ironi Gimmel in Haifa departed this afternoon.  I don’t blame the kids – I’m very sad as well that the two delightful teens who have been staying with us for the past 4 nights have left.  I enjoyed the Hebrew around the house, the daily email exchanges with their mothers in Israel, and the challenge of packing extra large lunch bags accommodating the palates and appetites of 2 more boys.  Like a number of the other local day schools, SASSDS has a yearly exchange program with the Ironi Gimmel high school.  This past April my son and the other SASSDS 8th graders traveled to Israel for 12 days to tour the country.  The highlight for them was the time they spent with the IG kids in Haifa, staying with their families, and then continuing to tour the north together for the following days.  My son was counting down the days (and spending a lot of time on Facebook with Israel making plans!) until the IG kids would return, and has now spent a very intense and wonderful 4 days together here in Boston.  
The Ironi Gimmel kids were here for our school-wide “zimriya” where each class enthusiastically sang Hebrew songs that they learned at school.  The IG kids were there right in the mix, singing along with them.  A friend of mine told me afterwards that she was trying to pick out who were the IG kids and who were the American 8th graders, and she wasn’t able to distinguish between them.  That was exactly the feeling I had had watching them all together up on the stage.  
There is nothing like this personal connection.  All of the academic classes about Israel can lay the foundation, but this type of profound connection to the country is forged between the people.  Kol hakavod to the CJP team who has helped make this type of program possible.  The effects are profound, and I am certain, long lasting.  Now I have to go home and cheer up my son!

Elisa Deener-Agus is the Assistant Director at Initiative for Day School Excellence and the mother of an 8th grader at Kehillah Schechter Academy.

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