Mayan Benami is the Global Teen Twinning Coordinator for The Jewish Federation at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School. He shares his Twinning experience and how the program inspires him every day!
No matter how our delegations to Israel start, they always end in the same way — bawling teenagers, hugging and crying on each other as we try to pry them apart and load them onto the bus to the airport. Then there are the ambitious handful of students from our twin school Gordon wo race down Hayarkon Street following our bus and yelling back and forth to our students, “We love you! We will miss you! Come back! Stay in Israel!”
Supporting Israel has always been a cause close to my heart. My grandmother is a Holocaust survivor who fought in the Palmach at age 15. My grandfather was a United States Army WWII veteran who illegally came to Israel on a French refugee ship to help fight in Israel’s Independence War. He met my grandmother, they fell in love, and soon married in Tel Aviv. Both of my parents served in the IDF, and I grew up in an environment of idealistic love for Israel.
I was 4 years old when my family moved from Israel to Los Angeles. I grew up here and went to Jewish day school at Heschel, the school at which I now teach and serve as The Jewish Federation’s Global Teen Twinning Program Coordinator. As a teacher at Heschel, I was given the opportunity to chaperone and later lead the Global Teen Twinning Program, and I feel fortunate to have this chance to bring the Israeli and Jewish communities together in this unique and meaningful way. The connections between the American Jewish youth and their families to their Israeli counterparts and to their homeland of Israel are truly inspiring to witness.
The Jewish Federation’s Global Teen Twinning Program serves to build a strong connection between the two largest populations of Jews in the world. We at Heschel also believe in the importance of this goal, and our support for Israel is explicitly stated in the school’s mission statement.
For the eighth graders that we work with in Los Angeles and Israel, this is a very important time in their lives in developing and understanding their Jewish Identity. This theme has been the focus of many of our seminars and local workshops as coordinators in this program. Jews throughout history have had to figure out how they could fit in to their societies while maintaining their individuality and beliefs and at the same time understanding themselves what it meant to be Jewish. Jewish youth of today both in Israel and Los Angeles bond over the unique challenges posed by each in their surroundings and in attaining this understanding.
With the advances in technology and social media, our students can leverage to an even greater extent the experiences and friendships that they make together with the students of our twin school AD Gordon. We hear stories of close friendships that endure throughout high school, college, the Israeli army, and beyond. This program brings a reality to the notion that we have a homeland in Israel and that we as Jews are all one big family.
Our entire school benefits from our connection to the AD Gordon school and the delegations that go back and forth. The delegations involve every student in the school in some way, and we draw on these experiences for learning about Israel, Judaism, and even in how we graduate our students to move on to high school. Last year, when visiting family in Tel Aviv, I ran into a Heschel alumnus at a cafe on Dizengoff. She was on a semester abroad program in Israel and wanted me to know that it was because of her experience in the 8th grade Twinning program at Heschel that she was there now and that was when her love for Israel began. What more can you ask for?
Mayan Benami is the Global Teen Twinning Coordinator at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School. 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 about the Federation’s Global Teen Twinning Program, please visit www.JewishLA.org.