Matan Sokolovsky participated in our Federation’s Global Teen Twinning Program in 2014 as a high school freshman. He was paired with Jake Gardenhour in Los Angles, and they still remain close friends. Today, Matan studies mathematics and computer science at Israel’s Tel Aviv University. He shares his Twinning experience with us and how the program impacted his life!
What year were you involved in the Global Teen Twinning program, and what school and grade were you in?
I participated in the program in the winter of 2013 in L.A. I also hosted four different guests — Jake and Daniela (June 2014), and Ani and Goda (June 2015).
What was the most memorable experience of your Twinning journey?
In June this year, Jake’s family flew all the way to Jerusalem to celebrate his brother’s bar mitzvah. It was a beautiful ceremony by the Wailing Wall. My whole family was invited, and both of our families had a great time together and spent a few days bonding that week.
I think that the connections I made during the program with other Jewish teens were the most valuable thing I gained from it, and I cherish those relationships to this day.
What led you to participate in Twinning, and how did your time in the program impact your elementary and high school experience?
Luckily, I had an excellent English teacher in high school who put in a lot of effort to bring the program to our school. Around the beginning of the year, Mrs. Yegorov approached me and mentioned something about the program. She asked me if I would be interested in participating in something of the sort, and I immediately asked her to count me in. I still remember my excitement about the opportunity.
Learning about other Jewish communities and making friends all around the world was a big part of high school for me. I used to visit my friends from the Global Teen Twinning program quite often and host them whenever they came to Israel. It was also nice to be able to talk to them on the phone every once in a while to catch up and get a different perspective on the things that are going on in our lives.
How did the experience of living with your host family (and hosting your buddy) impact your views of the global Jewish community?
It was fascinating to see the different ways people experience Judaism and Jewish culture around the world. I was surprised to see the involvement and sense of responsibility people had towards their local Jewish community. It seems that Jewish communities in the diaspora are closer together and resemble an extended family of some sort. It was really heartwarming to experience being a part of that, even for a short time.
I was also really proud to see the support for Israel and sense of community on a more global scale. I feel like wherever there’s a Jewish community, I could make myself at home.
What words of wisdom or advice would you share with teens who are slated to participate in The Jewish Federation’s Global Teen Twinning program?
Talk to everyone. Every person you meet on the program is there for a reason, and they are just as eager to get to know you as you are them. You will make very diverse and fascinating friends.
Make an effort to take an interest in your guest/host, as it’ll be a better experience for both of you.
Leave your phone. Want to take pictures? Get a camera. Don’t let your phone distract you from interacting with people.
Always say yes. You can always stay at home and watch TV. Going to Venice Beach or exploring old Jaffa (to each their own) — that’s rare.
The Jewish Federation’s Global Teen Twinning Program (GTTP) is the largest student delegation program in the Jewish world. Every year, 600 students in 6th-10th grades from 30 schools in Los Angeles, Tel Aviv, and Vilnius, Lithuania participate in this transformative program. To learn more, visit www.JewishLA.org.