By Robby Cohn, Leah Umanskiy, Alyssa Wexler, and Zoe Zirlin
Two worlds, one family!
After months of texting and sending Facebook messages, the North American Seminar finally arrived and we were able to meet our Israeli counterparts! When we finally met, it was amazing to see how quickly the Chicago cohort and Israeli cohort bonded together to create the true KaShLaSh (Kiryat Gat-Shafir-Lachish-Chicago) cohort as we headed to our Shabbaton.
The next morning, due to the cold and rainy weather, we had our Outdoor Training (ODT) inside! Alon, a member of the Diller international staff put together an amazing morning with fun games and various team building activities. It got a bit violent at times--the Israelis are very agressive, but the Chicago teens quickly got into the spirit of the competition!
We then had the very first ever KaShLaSh auction! There were many Jewish objects up for auction, such as the Torah, Tzedakah box, tallis bag, candle sticks, a mezuzah, and much more. Along with the large sheet of paper, we were handed an envelope containing many slips of paper. There were ideas, morals, and values, and our goal was to place each idea, moral, or value that we had to mark as an obligation, important, or not an obligation. It was our first time having a real conversation about our Jewish values.
Let it snow!
The activity was suddenly interrupted by a screaming Israeli, who pointed out the window with a large smile on her face, and her legs quickly moving up and down. Michal Levin stood up and ran towards the window. It was her first snow. In fact, it was many of the Israelis first time seeing snow and they all ran outside to play in the falling snow.
We headed back to the gym as a large group for a couple hours. The Entertainment committee, made of Robby, Amanda, Talius, Lian, Amit, and Liana created a fun afternoon of games and small competitions. The afternoon consisted of a large hula-hoop competition, logtag, and other fun games.
Our Friday night Shabbat service was unlike any other. There were no prayer books, only blue signs that hung on the walls around the circular building. We were told to silently walk toward the poster that we had the strongest connection with and to bring chairs to discuss it in small groups. It was truly a remarkable service. Shabbat is meant to separate us from the rest of the week and this service did exactly that. Our Friday night Shabbat service was unlike any other. There were no prayer books, only blue signs that hung on the walls around the circular building. We were told to silently walk toward the poster that we had the strongest connection with and to bring chairs to discuss it in small groups. It was truly a remarkable service. Shabbat is meant to separate us from the rest of the week and this service did exactly that.
After changing out of our nice clothes and start our ma’agal lailah, which means night circle. It was the first time the two groups separated. We talked about serious topics, but we had a blast doing it. None of us could stop smiling and laughing and enjoying being just our group again.
The worship committee created two ideas for Saturday morning services. There were Reform and Alternative services. I had the chance to experience the Alternative service—a yoga and meditation service. It was nice to take time away from our busy lives to relax together. We joined together again later that morning and walked to the building where we had services the previous night. Jessica and Avigail led an interesting activity and conversation about pluralism.
After our long break, we joined again to learn about the tribes of Israel, and the spies. The Fellows split off into two groups to have a debate. This is a program that all Diller Fellows experience during the NAS as we talk about what it means to be two one people who live in different places and how that began.
Later that night, after another full day of bonding and connecting, it was time to celebrate Havdallah. We said a few short prayers and then the Diller Fellows started to sing and dance around a close circle. It was amazing. I have never experienced anything like it. It was a great way to end Shabbat.
S'mores+international sing-off=great Saturday night!
After singing and eating s’mores around a campfire, we joined together for another night circle. Several words were spread throughout the floor in English and Hebrew. The mission was to pick one word to describe yourself and another word to describe the person to the right. That special activity, designed to bring us even closer together was empowering and motivating.
On Sunday morning, we slipped on our Diller shirts and packed our luggage so we could be ready to leave camp on time to return back to Chicago. We split off into small committees or groups to start planning the opening ceremony, for when the Israelis get to meet our anxious and excited families. We also started planning community week, an action-filled, fun week taking place in Kiryat Gat-Lachish-Shafir, when the American’s travel to Israel this summer.
On Sunday night, we returned on the bus back to Deerfield excited for the Israeli Fellows to meet our parents, who waited with open arms. Our Israeli friends were nervous but looking forwards to the days ahead! Whether they would arrive home at midnight (shoutout to Lizzy and Amanda,) or could have walked home, (shoutout to Leta), no one could wait to begin community week!
The Shabbaton was truly a remarkable experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I got to meet 19 amazing Israelis and even strengthened the bond with the Chicago cohort. What can be better than spending four straight days with Israelis? Exactly. Nothing. I cannot wait to see my new friends this summer—well, more like my new siblings! I cannot wait for the KaShLaSh family to reunite this summer in Israel!
NAS General Highlights:
And off we were to begin the exciting North American Seminar. The Israelis each travelled to a different area of Chicago, since none of us live in the same place. As the Israeli Fellows became acquainted with the American families, the connection between our two cultures began to form an unbreakable bond. The next week was about to be a rollercoaster of unforgettable memories. Each day, the Israeli Fellows experienced a different theme chosen by our coordinators, Avigail and Jessica.
Classic jumping picture at the Bean.
Here are some highlights:
- The first day, the Israelis travelled to downtown Chicago to visit Navy Pier and Millenium Park, to learn about the role of the JUF in the Chicagoland area, and, of course, to go shopping!!!
- After a long, mediocre day of school, the Chicago cohort waited eagerly for the Israelis to return, so that we could begin our night of improve and communication games. We talked throughout the whole night as if we hadn’t seen each other in years, although it really was less than 24 hours.
- The Tuesday, the Israelis learned about religious pluralism in Chicago by visiting various synagogues in the Lakeview area and talking with rabbis of different denominations. They also visited Northwestern Hillel and learned about Jewish life on campus and college life.
- On Wednesday, the Israeli Fellows got a chance to attend a few high schools in the northern suburbs for two hours to see what it is like to be an American teenager. They met with someone from Jewish Student Connection and Chicagoland Jewish High School to learn about different types of Jewish education.
- Thursday’s theme was tikkun olam, or repairing the world. Fellows travelled to different community service sites—Cornerstone Community Outreach, where they sorted clothes and served food at the soup kitchen, and CJE SeniorLife, where they spent time with seniors.
- After two days of Diller withdrawal, KaShLaSh was finally together again as one. We talked, we laughed, we took selfies... and we worked. As one of our last chances to work together as a joined group, we clarified the goals for Community Week and finalized the basic themes of each day during the week. We were set to go, ready to plan part of the amazing trip that awaits us in less than 80 days!
- The final day of the school week, Friday, meant Shabbat was coming soon. Israeli Fellows visited the Chicago Jewish Day School and shared their Shabbat experiences with middle schoolers. In addition, they learned about being a shaliach (an emissary from Israel) from a few representatives in Chicago and played with kids at the Israeli preschool, Gan Gani.
Family Night Selfie!
During their stay, the Israelis had family nights with their host families, in which they got to spend quality time with their host families. My Israeli partner, Karin, and I went out to dinner at Tzukasa, a fun hibachi restaurant, and had the best time watching our food be cooked, trying to catch broccoli in our mouths, and watching, amazed with the creativity of the chef. After dinner, we went ice skating at a local rink. I have been skating since I was little, but this was only Karin's third time skating and she was AMAZING. She didn't even need to hold onto me (most of the time)! We talked about Israeli pop culture and Gadna, a week-long army experience we both have participated in in Israel. The next family day, we went to see the show
“Cats” at a local Marriott Theatre. We both love dancing, so we had a blast!
Other Israelis and their hosts got together and had combined family days. Some got together and played later tag, while others went shopping or to Chicago. At least half of the group took their Israeli guests to Lou Malnati’s for deep dish pizza. Overall, the family days were a great way for the teens and families to bond with their Israeli partners. It was very nice for everyone to get designated days during the week to help develop our relationships. The family days were a blast, and I'm very excited for our family days once the Americans visit the Israelis!
Rocking the KaShLaSh T-shirts!
Closing Ceremony and Havdallah
an incredible ten days of friendship and laughter, the Diller fellows and their
families arrived at the Zell house with excitement, but also sadness because we
wouldn't be seeing each other until summer! Two of our Diller teens spoke to us about the magical
connections we made during the time the Israelis were in Chicago and how much
our Diller counterparts enjoyed staying with our families. Then, everyone got
up and created a huge circle, swaying to the havdallah service while Jessica and
Avigail led the prayers. After a few loud Diller cheers, the Israeli fellows
hugged their new American parents farewell and the adults set off, leaving the
fellows to their fun evening and soon to be sad goodbyes.
All of the teens
bounced downstairs, excited for some last minute bonding and hopefully a few
hours of sleep! After a quick few rounds of lap-tag, everyone settled in to
watch the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. On VHS! After that crazy
throwback, the Diller Fellows cheered on their four leaders for Community Week,
when the Chicagoans will travel to Kiryat Gat, Lachish and Shafir! The leaders
announced the leaders of each day and everyone was excited at the prospect of
enjoying days together doing things like boot-camp at an army base and learning
about the rich history of our Israeli Dillers' home region. Everyone glided around
after that, talking to each other and soon heading off for a quick nap before
the Israelis woke up early, early, early, in the morning to set off for O'Hare!
The Chicagoans slumped up the stairs half awake until it was time for our new brothers
and sisters to leave, and hugs were frequent, everyone already missing each
other! Hats/scarf things and jackets on, our new friends headed out the door, looking forward to two solid days of travel and returning back
to their own families! Soon, the Chicagoans went back to the basement, and an
intense grabbing-of-couch-space began, as everyone got ready to settle back
into sleep. One thought remained prevalent in all of our minds as we settled
into sleep: how excited we are to travel to Israel and see our friends again!