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 30 schools in Los Angeles, Tel Aviv, and Vilnius, Lithuania participate in this transformative program. The Global Teen Twinning Coordinators recently traveled to Thessaloniki, Greece, and Sofia, Bulgaria for the 16th Joint Teachers Seminar. Anat Margalit, Global Teen Twinning Coordinator at Ironi Hey in Israel, shares her experience with us! Ironi Hey partners with Ner Tamid and Kadima Day School in Los Angeles.
I expected the Federation’s Global Teen Twinning Program Joint Teachers Seminar to be intensive and informative, but I could not have imagined how it affected me during the seminar itself and also in the weeks following my return.
I was exposed to the rich and fascinating life of the Jewish community of Thessaloniki, which embodies the culture that influenced Judaism and the world. The personal encounters with Mr. Lazarus Sefiha, the story of the Molcho family as told by Nina, and the guided tours in the city opened a window to an entire world. The witnesses’ stories raised many questions regarding the future of the Thessaloniki Jewish community and its connection to the State of Israel — stories which, I think, should be told to the students in the Twinning Program, both during the delegations and in the joint studies at school. In addition, the personal stories of some of my colleagues who told us about their family roots in Thessaloniki gave me a good sense of the human network that binds us all to one another.
Four years ago, after leading a group of students to Poland, I met Yehuda Poliker upon our return to Israel. Poliker is an honorary citizen of the city of Thessaloniki due to his work in memorializing the Jews there. I told him how his personal story and that of his family accompanied us on our Polish journey and that I also am a daughter of a Holocaust survivor. He said that the stories of famous personalities are told through various media — books, movies, plays — but that there are also many stories of people who are not famous. The more we hear about them, the more they will continue to live within us and complete the picture of lives that we must remember and preserve.
On our way to Sofia, passing through Dupniza, I was affected emotionally in an unexpected manner. My mother was from Dupniza, and since my father was a Polish Holocaust survivor, the message that I always received from her was that she didn’t go through the Holocaust, that the King of Bulgaria protected the Jews, and that I should try to understand my father. My mother was always proud of Bulgaria and of her roots. She loved the Bulgarian people. She told me that they were industrious and happy, and she kept in touch with her friends from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Bulgaria, none of them Jews. I have rarely seen such a strong connection among friends. As a senior staff ophthalmologist, she traveled to Bulgaria to teach doctors how to perform eye — and especially corneal — transplant surgery, which was her specialty. She also hosted doctors who came to our home and to Ichilov Hospital to study in her department. In my heart, I keep hearing a sentence she always said to me when I was a child: ”It doesn’t matter what you do when you grow up, the most important thing is to help others,” and I am flooded with tears.
And within all of the emotions, the workshops, the guided tours, the work, the humor, the listening, and the learning, I truly felt a partnership, a deep and honest connection to the people with whom I work, creating a clear shared educational goal — to preserve the human connection that binds us all and to assure that it will never be undone. This is the “fuel” that propels us to continue this important work together with The Jewish Federation.
The Global Teen Twinning Program’s 16th Joint Teachers Seminar (JTS) was held at the start of July in Thessaloniki, Greece and Sofia, Bulgaria, bringing together 45 program educators from Los Angeles, Tel Aviv, and Vilnius. Through Federation-led workshops, meetings with local community leaders, and site visits, the Twinning coordinators expanded their knowledge of Sephardic Jewry, both broadly and in these specific communities, and worked together to identify practical, meaningful, and creative ways to apply the knowledge with future Twinning delegations. The JTS cultivated personal and professional connections and strengthened the relationships between all program partners as we head into the 2018-19 school year.
To learn more, visit www.JewishLA.org/Twinning.