by Rebecca Schwartz
When two girls from the Haifa school Reali 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- and this meant that it was also their duty to contribute their efforts to stopping violence and hate, truly giving 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 that acted like just as close of friends 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.