By Rabbi Loren Sykes, Director of Israel Immersives
All Hebrew verbs, almost every Hebrew word, in fact, is made up of a three-letter root. Links between different words are revealed through shared three-letter roots. For example, words sharing the three-letter root kuf – shin – resh or k-sh-r include:
Likshor – To tie
Kishor – Link
Tikshoret – Communications
Kesher – Connection
These words all relate to things or actions that somehow connect people or objects. Tying knots creates connections between one rope and another, or a rope and an item. Links on the internet create connections between one webpage and another. And kesher, or connection, is about the relationship between people. This week, the word Kesher plays an important role for many of our groups.
One of the central themes of NFTY in Israel trips is the importance of building connections between North American Jewish teens and their Israeli contemporaries. For six days, our groups are joined by Israeli high school students on a program we call Kishre Noar or Teen Connections. Long before other groups started having Mifgashim or one-day peer-to-peer gatherings, NFTY in Israel was leading the way with these six-day joint travel programs. High school students in Shoham and other Israeli communities learn about the program from older siblings who participated in the past and from recruitment events we hold. Every participant applies and is interviewed by NFTY in Israel Associate Director, Ruby Sommer, before they are accepted as participants.
In addition to orientation meetings held before the summer, we hold a group-building day for the Israelis. The next day, the two groups join for a day of icebreakers and group building activities, as well as lots of fun, at the Hof Golan beach and water park. They spend the rest of the week traveling together and visiting everything from The Shuk HaCarmel and Nahalat Binyamin Art Festival in Tel Aviv to Yad VaShem, The Holocaust Memorial and Museum, in Jerusalem, to Ein Rafa, an Israeli Arab village where they meet Yasmin and Musa, learn about what it is like to live as an Israeli Arab Citizen, and get to enjoy some authentic Middle Eastern cuisine. NFTY in Israel participants get to see these sites not only through their own eyes but through the eyes of their Israeli peers.
Even more than through enjoying the beauty of the Land of Israel and connecting with their history and spiritual side through Torat Israel, the most effective and “sticky” way to help North American Jewish teens build a relationship with Israel is by meeting, learning with, and building connections with Am Yisrael, the People of Israeli, especially with their peers. Our participants get to discover the similarities and difference between their daily routines, their schools, and the next steps in their lives after the end of high school. Similarly, Israelis learn about North American Judaism through the eyes of our participants. The relationships built during Kishre Noar week become the foundation of Jewish Peoplehood, the intangible connection Jews feel across the world, for this generation.
Our Torah portion, Va’Etchanan, also speaks about connections, kesharim, those between Adonai and the Jewish People and between individual Jews to one another. The Shma, V’Ahavta, and the Ten Commandments speak about the loving and covenantal relationship between Jews and God. The nearly universal ability of Jews to recite at least the first line of the Shma: Hear O Israel…” and to know that the Ten Commandments are part of our Torah connect us to our faith, our God, and to each other. Finally, the Sages taught that all Jews from every generation were together at Mt. Sinai. The roots of our people, our present, past, and future, are found in these connections.
We look forward to hearing about the impact of the Kishre Noar program on our participants after they have some time to digest the entire experience. Our hope is that the connections they build with their Israeli peers will strengthen the foundation of their deep connection to Israel.