Forging friendships across the ocean

Israeli "pen pals" in the 21st Century

Stevenson high schooolers "zooming" with Israeli students

This past spring, the new reality of quarantine and distance learning made us educators step out of the classrooms and rethink education and social interactions. We were forced to adapt to Zoom and maintain nearly all relationships remotely.  

We scoped out forums for our students to continue growing their social skills, and to find ways to interact not only with their peers in their school and their hometowns, but also with those who live across the world.  

With travel restrictions, we lost out on our annual opportunity to have JUF Diller Teen Fellows from JUF's Partnership Together region of Kiryat Gat, Lachish, and Shafir visit us at Stevenson High School. However, no flying restrictions could stop us from building those bridges and fostering lasting relationships.   

JUF and Stevenson partnered to create the virtual connections in which students from the Partnership region in Israel and Stevenson students were able to connect through Zoom, WhatsApp, and FaceTime throughout the summer to share a series of virtual experiences.  

"My partner and I got a chance to interact and learn more about each other, although there was a barrier of time and location," said Abigail Rabin, a junior at Stevenson High School. "With the help of WhatsApp, we had gotten to know about each other's interests, family, societal differences, and education systems."  

The exchange was a special experience for the Chicago students to witness how their Israeli counterparts overcame similar challenges. It was important for the students to still have an opportunity to forge friendships, especially when so many camps and travel programs were canceled.  

For Rayna Finn, a Stevenson senior, the project was the beginning of a friendship that continues to grow-despite the distance and language barriers: "Despite the world being thrown into chaos from the pandemic, I managed to make new connections across the sea. ...Even though my Hebrew wasn't very proficient, and Hila struggled a little with English, we automatically connect on a whole other level… This experience wasn't a project, but the building of a friendship." 

Anna Gorbikoff is a Hebrew teacher at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire. 




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