On a cool Saturday evening recently, something haimish was taking place at Temple Beth Zion in Brookline. For the previous few days, the 11th grade students at Gann Academy in Waltham had been warm hosts to a visiting group of 11th grade students from the Ironi Hey school in Haifa, in a partnership arranged through the auspices of CJP’s Boston-Haifa Connection. Now, the combined groups were gathering together in the warmly lit sanctuary of the synagogue for a group Havdallah ceremony, led by Rabbi Jethro Berkman, Dean of Jewish Education at Gann Academy. This exchange, or mifgash in Hebrew, was not their first encounter however. The students from both schools had already been in touch beforehand, and had the opportunity to connect with each other over videoconferencing, learning about their mutual experiences as students, what their interests were and what life was like in their respective communities. Gathered in the sanctuary were not only students, but also educators from both schools and parents from the Gann Academy host families. Over the years, mifgash programs like this had served to develop strong links between Boston-area Jewish youth and their counterparts in Haifa.

From the start, it was clear how naturally the American and Israeli students melded together, bridging language divides and socializing as peers (after all, what has become more universal than the selfie?). Beginning the Havdallah service, Dr. Jon Golden, the Israel Curriculum Coordinator at Gann Academy, framed the space for the students, speaking not only about the nature of Havdallah, serving to bridge bein kodesh v’chol (between the holiness of Shabbat and the rest of the week), but also about the very nature of the synagogue itself as a nondenominational synagogue community dedicated to fostering diverse Jewish experiences. For a diverse group of students, this message resonated and many nodded their heads and smiled in approval.

American and Israeli students gather for Havdallah.


As the Havdallah service began, the group joined together in song and prayer, linking arms on shoulders, embracing their friendships and the new week against the backdrop of the braided Havdallah candle and aromatic spices. Rabbi Berkman mentioned a theme, materialized in the braided candle, that just as the candle has wicks that join together as one, so too did the mifgash experience serve to bring together different understandings of Jewish experiences, and as much as the Gann Academy students would learn about Israel, the Ironi Hey students would learn about the plurality of Jewish life outside of Israel in an environment where Jews cannot take their Judaism for granted.

After the Havdallah service filled with laughter and music, the group moved over to the synagogue social hall for a delicious ice cream social to extend the sweetness of Shabbat into the new week, and the connections between students continued to grow.

Keep an eye out here for future spotlights on the fantastic mifgash experiences between Boston-area communities and Haifa.

Did you know? Gann Academy and Ironi Hey have been involved in school-to-school partnership work for 19 years! Annually, Gann Academy families have hosted approximately 25 students for face-to-face mifgashim in Boston.  Later this spring, Gann Academy will be launching their newly developed 6-week Israel program based out of Haifa, with the entire 10th grade class participating.

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