Each year, the Solomon Schechter Day School in Newton and the Reali School of Haifa partner in an incredibly powerful exchange program. This program is actually the culmination of not only the relationships that two schools’ students begin building in 6th grade, but Schechter’s long term focus on Israel education beginning with our preschool classes all the way through 8th grade.

Fifty Israeli 8th-graders arrive in early fall, spending a week with Schechter host families as they tour the Boston area and participate in a variety of Jewish celebrations and experiential learning opportunities at school and off campus. Just before Passover, Schechter’s 8th grade spends two weeks on the Israel Study Tour including a stay in Haifa when students are reunited with their Israeli friends. Farewells in the fall and the spring are bittersweet for students who quickly create deep and abiding friendships as one Schechter student, Rebecca Schwartz ‘17, shares below.

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When two girls from the Reali School in Haifa came to stay at my house for a week, I realized I was truly in for an enlightening and special experience. On the evening that they arrived, we bonded over ice cream sundaes and the best of Israeli music, and must have talked for hours getting to know each other and our countries. The most poignant part of our conversation was when we brought up the subject of shootings and violence in Israel which we hear about all too much in the newspapers. The girls’ response surprised and touched me, and is something I keep in mind when the world feels depressing and frightening.  

“We are born to this,” explained the girls. They told me that they had been hearing sirens from the time they were toddlers, and this had become a part of their everyday lives. This means that it is also their duty to contribute their efforts to stopping violence and hate which truly gives me a better understanding of Israeli society and Tikkun Olam.

The rest of the week presented plenty more opportunities to get to know the other young ambassadors from Haifa. When we went to Project Adventure together, I was placed in a group with five Reali students I hadn’t spoken with earlier. But by the end, after supporting each other through various climbing activities and bonding exercises, I felt as though we were, at the very least, close and trusted acquaintances. As the mifgash continued, I found myself at the Blue Man Group, a fabulous performance that we spoke about for days afterwards, and the highlight of the whole visit for many of the kids. When we attended Shabbat dinner at a friend’s house the day after, the Schechter Kids and the Reali kids formed a group together. The group acted like friends who are just as close as I am with my American classmates, laughing at ourselves and with each other, talking about average teenage things.

Before the Reali kids’ visit, I had been nervous that we would have nothing in common, being from different backgrounds. But on the very last night we had together, the farewell party, I found myself standing onstage with a microphone, right beside a girl from Israel. We were singing the same song together, screaming out the lyrics, and at that point it didn’t matter where we were from originally. All that mattered was that we were in the same place now, finding real friendship that spanned any cultural differences, all within that one short week.

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The community is invited Wednesday, December 14 at 7:00 p.m. for a Miracle Benefit Concert at Schechter’s Upper School (125 Wells Avenue, Newton) featuring all Upper School Choirs (Nafshi, Sababa and Shir Chai). The proceeds of this concert will benefit Reali School families who have been impacted by the Haifa fires. The concert will be a heartfelt show of support for our beloved sister city of Haifa and the families we have come to know and love through our exchange program.. Please come out to support our community overseas and demonstrate that our children’s voices have power and value. Suggested donation: $5. All proceeds will be donated to our friends from the Reali School through CJP’s Israel Fire Relief Fund. For more information on the concert, please email Trudy Fagen, Creative Arts Director at trudy.fagen@ssdsboston.org.

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