The Jewish Federation’s Global Teen Twinning Program is the largest student delegation program in the Jewish world. Every year, 600 students in 6th-10th grades from 35 schools in Los Angeles, Tel Aviv, and Vilnius, Lithuania participate in this transformative program. They live in each other’s homes, study in their partner schools, and experience the local culture firsthand.
Since its inception in 1997, this powerful program has supported more than 60,000 middle school and high school students, parents, and faculty who built lasting relationships with the greater Jewish community and the state of Israel, through reciprocal student delegation exchanges, jointly prepared curricula, and teacher training.
Allie Bloxberg Elbaz participated in the Global Teen Twinning program seven years ago. As she shares with us below, the Twinning program forever impacted her life.
I participated in the Twining program at de Toledo High School during the 2010-2011 school year, and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life — one that I look back upon quite often. Within the first few weeks in Israel, I met a boy named Omri Elbaz. Omri was not on a Twinning program, but he went to Tichon Hadash [the school our program was partnered with] and had a few friends who had participated in the program (Eliav Mamane, May Galansky, Moran Yaffe). Omri and I started dating on and off while I was on EIEP (Extended Israel Experience Program).
After the program ended and I had to return to the U.S., we promised to keep in touch with one another. The following summer, I came back to Israel on a family trip. It was then that our relationship really flourished and we realized how much we meant to one another. We, once again, promised to keep in touch, both not knowing when we would see one another again.
After that summer, Omri began taking his English studies very seriously so that he could learn to communicate fluently with my family and me. Soon after, he worked countless hours to collect enough money to come visit me in the U.S. (twice). After those two trips he made out here, we experienced a love that we both never knew was possible. I knew he was the one and would even tell my friends that I was going to marry him. Of course, at the time, being a love-struck teenager, my friends thought I was young and naïve — but I always knew. In fact, I just recently found an old diary entry from 2011 in which I wrote, “I am going to marry this guy one day.”
One of the main reasons I knew I loved Omri so much was that, despite our inability to communicate with each other in English, we had a fascination with each other that transcended language. It was as if words were not needed, and we had this literally unspoken bond and connection. All we needed was to be in one another’s company. What was so hard for us, though, was the fleeting time we had together. We only had a certain number of days to share and then time would be up before we knew it. We never had the opportunity to date like a “real couple” because of the geographic distance that separated us.
Through everything, Omri and I never lost touch — always texting, skyping, sending each other packages and gifts, and confessing our love. I would approach my parents with reasons to visit Israel every summer, both because I love Israel and wanted to spend the summer there (I’m Israel’s number one fan) and also because I wanted to be with Omri. Whether it was volunteering at a children’s hospital in Holon or guiding an organized trip with Hillel, I always found a way to get myself back to my favorite place, Israel — and back to Omri. I never gave up on our relationship because I always had faith in us and in my first and only love.
What really solidified our relationship for me was when I went abroad in Tel Aviv last year for six months. After spending so many consecutive months with Omri, I got the validation I needed that he was 250% the one for me.
In February 2017, Omri came to visit and proposed to me, and this past October, after almost seven years of long-distance dating, Omri and I finally tied the knot in a small ceremony with close family and friends! These past couple of months of married life have been everything I have hoped for and more. We are finally in the same place and living our lives together forever. Because of our long-distance experience in the past, we treasure every single second shared with one another.
Going on the Global Teen Twinning Program was not only one of the best experiences of my life, but it led me to the love of my life. Because of this exchange program, I found my husband — my other half. I have an endless amount of gratitude for this program and for those who support it. I am eternally thankful to the people who encouraged both my sister and me to go on the program. I am so excited to share this news and thank those involved for contributing to the best thing that has ever happened to me!
I’d also like to share that I am still in contact with many of the program’s participants. May Galansky, Inbar Oved, and I meet up once a year when I am in Israel for the summer.
This program has had an everlasting impact on my family and me, and I will never forget the amazing opportunities received, friendships made, and memories created from going on the Global Teen Twinning Program.
To watch some of the wedding, visit https://vimeo.com/244761185.
The Global Teen Twinning Program engages Jewish youth in the U.S., Israel, and Lithuania in personal and meaningful Jewish relationships that enable them to build a strong sense of Jewish identity, affinity for Israel, and commitment to the Jewish people.
To learn more about The Jewish Federation’s Global Teen Twinning Program, please email MKetayi@JewishLA.org.