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Stories From Our Global Twinning Program: Bryan & Gal

We’re celebrating the 20th year of The Jewish Federation’s Global Teen Twinning Program! This life-changing program brings Israel education to life by taking it out of the textbook and into the country itself.

The only initiative in existence that connects schools in Los Angeles with schools in Tel Aviv, Israel, and Vilnius, Lithuania, this powerful program has supported more than 60,000 middle school and high school students, parents, and faculty through reciprocal student delegation exchanges, jointly prepared curricula, and teacher training. Today, there are 20 participating schools in Los Angeles and 20 participating schools abroad.

In honor of the program’s 20th year, we are highlighting alumni through a series of blogs — like this interview with paired participants Bryan Gershkowitz and Gal Dali. They are celebrating 13 years of Twinning friendship!

Bryan Gershkowitz, an alumnus from Valley Beth Shalom, lives in Washington, D.C. He is a consultant for a major government contractor and consults for the Department of Justice.

What was the most memorable experience of your Twinning journey?

The question of most memorable experience is always a very hard one to answer. I can remember a lot about the time I spent in Israel. The first time I went to Israel was in sixth grade when I participated in the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles twinning pilot program between VBS Day School and David Bloch. I arrived at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel to see my host family, the Dali-Levis, standing there with a sign with my name on it. My mom had gotten there the day before, so my mom was there as well. The welcome combined my family from home and my new family in Israel. I remember Shabbat dinners with other friends and host families from the twinning program. However, the most memorable experience I had when I was in Israel for the first time was not a grand adventure — it was a small moment that solidified my connection to Israel and my connection to my host family. As we were leaving the house to head to Ben Gurion Airport for my journey back to the U.S., we walked out with my suitcases, locked the door, and my host family turned to me to say, “You will always have a home here. We are your family and this is your home, any time you want to come back to Israel.” I will never forget those words, as they have forever changed my life. That was truly the start of an amazing relationship with Tel Aviv, with Israel, and with my newfound family. I still look back on that trip, on that moment, and can’t help but smile.

 

 

What led you to participate in Twinning, and how did your time in the program impact your elementary and high school experience?

I participated in my first ever Twinning program in sixth grade. The year I participated in the program was the pioneering year that students traveled from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv, and I was the only boy from my grade at VBS to travel to Israel. I looked at piloting a program as an opportunity to be a part of something bigger. Not only would I participate, but the group of us that went would leave a legacy and pave a path for future delegations. Participating in the twinning program meant that I was getting to develop a close relationship with people across the world, getting to learn on a personal level about Israel, and getting to make a lasting impact on my community and a program for years to come. Not only did the Twining program offer me a long-lasting friendship and family, it opened up a passion for building strong relationships no matter where you are in the world. The twinning program in elementary school inspired me to participate in any other exchange programs I had at my disposal. This meant that I later traveled to Israel with Heschel Day School in eighth grade, and then I participated in the Extended Israel Exchange program in tenth grade with de Toldedo High School. Each time I returned to Israel, I knew I would have a place to stay, with my family the Dalis. I am forever grateful for that. Gal, while he did not stay with my family, ended up also participating in the Extended Israel Exchange Program, as de Toledo and Tichon Hadash (Gal’s high school) were partner schools. Gal stayed with a very good friend of mine, and as a result our friendship continued to grow. I don’t know how to explain in words the full impact that the twinning program has had on me, but I know for certain that I am better because of it. I am still passionate about building relationships and connections across the globe. On top of that, I have also built a very strong connection to Israel.

How did the experience of living with your host family (and hosting your buddy) impact your views of the global Jewish community?

Living with a host family taught me that you can find people just like yourself just about anywhere in the world. Gal and I are both different people — at the same time, we have this bond that started with his family’s hosting me. Over time, this bond has grown into a true friendship and brotherhood. His family cares about and loves my family just like my family cares about and loves his family. Living with a host family and remaining in contact with them for over 10 years serves as a constant reminder that relationships built around the globe are vital. Knowing that you have people around the world you can turn to as you go through the various ups and downs in life is amazing. Living with a host family taught me a lot, but above all it taught me that you can relate to people anywhere you go — that you have the support of a Jewish community wherever you go. It also taught me that you can have more than one community. I grew up in the Jewish community in Los Angeles, but I have kept in contact and built up a relationship with a Jewish community in Tel Aviv, and I now am an active member in the Jewish community in Washington, D.C.

 

 

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?

I would say that the twinning program is a great place to start, but push beyond the twinning program and continue to grow your relationship. I would have never imagined that a friendship that started in 2005 would still be going strong in 2017. The twinning program is the first step on a very long journey for you and your host family. Also, be involved with your host family and their lives — because you end up meeting some really amazing people. Let yourself have these amazing experiences, and take away as much as you can from your time on the Twining program. I promise you won’t regret a single moment of it. But also know that it can be tough at first. Adjusting to a new surrounding and a new group of people can be tough. Push through that, and know that you have a community of people in your corner. I hope all participants can enjoy the benefits of The Jewish Federation’s Global Teen Twinning program, because they will learn so much about themselves as a result of this experience.

Why should others participate in the program?

The program not only helps you create strong bonds with Israel and strong bonds with the people who are hosting you, but also it gives you the chance to leave a lasting impact on a community and to contribute to something bigger than yourself. I know that may sound cliché, but the program that Gal and I participated in is still a vibrant program. The program still has a lasting impact on people’s lives. The program still creates a large community that embraces each other across the globe. This twinning program allows you to grow personally and within a community as well. It truly has the potential to change your life, so why not take a leap of faith?

 

Gal and Bryan speaking to the VBS Day School 6th grade student delegation at David Bloch Elementary School in Israel.

 

Gal Dali, an alumnus of David Bloch High School in Tel Aviv, currently lives in Tel Aviv and works as a flight attendant for El Al Airlines.

What was the most memorable experience of your Twinning journey?

The most memorable experience was when I started my post-army trip at Bryan’s apartment in D.C. At that moment, I understood the power of this program and how our friendship held more than ten years.

What led you to participate in Twinning, and how did your time in the program impact your high school experience?

I think that the thing that led me to participate in the program was the desire to be exposed to the life of the Jewish people in the diaspora and my willingness to meet people from other countries. The program enabled me to acquire new friends overseas as well as Israeli friends who participated with me in the program. Another thing that I have learned is that there is a different kind of Judaism and I was exposed to that I did not even know about until I participated in the program.

 

 

How did the experience of living with your host family (and hosting your buddy) impact your views of the global Jewish community?

Hosting Bryan and staying with his family [throughout the years] allowed me the opportunity to understand how the Jewish people in the diaspora have great fondness for Israel and yearn for a connection to Israel.

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?

I think that my best advice is to keep in touch with your partner even after the program has ended because this is when the real friendship starts.

Why should others participate in the program?

I think other people need to take part in this program because it allows you the opportunity to understand the Jewish people in the diaspora in the most authentic and clear way. Another reason is that by participating in this program, you can find and make real friendships with teenagers from around the world. In addition, you can help the Jewish people around the world by having a stronger and deep connection to Israel, which is something that we all really want to create together.

To learn more about The Jewish Federation’s Global Twinning Program, please email Miri Ketayi, Federation’s Director, Israel and International Education Programs, at MKetayi@JewishLA.org.

 

 

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