A friendship born on IST continues on a life-changing trip

Mar 13, 2024 | Article, Newsletter

“We and millions of our Jewish family members are waiting for your action. Now, more than ever, we are in the spotlight to act upon the antisemitism shoved under the rug for generations.”

Those were the words of two Colorado residents who recently spoke on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

“We hope our words today have touched you in the way Israel has so deeply touched us.”

Their speech was informed and passionate, even though they are not yet out of high school.

In late February, Noah Agay and Noah Bodner traveled to Washington, D.C., to join students from across the country on a four-day Religious Action Center (RAC) L’Taken Social Justice Seminar, culminating in the opportunity to speak to the staffs of Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper and Representatives Diana DeGette and Joe Neguse.

Noah Agay and Noah Bodner on RAC trip to Washington, D.C.

What brought Agay and Bodner together for this eye-opening trip was another life-changing journey—the Joyce Zeff Israel Study Tour (IST). The two high school seniors met and became fast friends on IST in summer of 2023. When they had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., they felt compelled to make their voices heard about the future of Israel.

“We felt so connected to Israel after IST,” says Agay. “Because of that, the attack of October 7 was an attack on our hearts as well.”

“We spent the first week on IST in Poland bearing witness to the attempt to exterminate Jews, and then we traveled from the ashes to the vibrant life of Israel,” adds Bodner. “The IST experience was the motivating factor for going on this trip to Washington.”

‘The dynamic duo’

Had it not been for IST, Agay and Bodner may have gone through their lives without ever meeting and becoming, as Agay puts it, “the dynamic duo.”

Noah Agay and Noah Bodner on IST 2023

Bodner is originally from California, now lives in Boulder, and attends Fairview High School. Agay is originally from Michigan, now lives in Denver, and attends Denver South High School. Bodner plans to go into medicine and, until recently would have told you, “Politics is not my thing.” Agay would like to go into politics.

But when the two met on the IST trip, the connection was immediate. Apart from the fact they share a first name, they also each have a brother named Ethan. And they both play tennis.

“We clicked so well, it was amazing to me,” says Agay. “We have the same idea of what makes a good time, but we also like to be serious about certain subjects, including Israel.”

“Going through Auschwitz and seeing the implications of the Holocaust and hiking through the tunnels of Jerusalem are life-changing experiences,” adds Bodner “Experiencing that with someone on the IST trip, you create connections and long-lasting relationships. I am proud to call many of the people I met on IST ‘family.’”

Noah Bodner and Noah Agay at National Mall

While in Israel, Agay spent time with Bodner’s extended Israeli family in Tel Aviv. When they got back from IST, the two Noahs remained best friends, despite the geographical challenges (“His couch became my bed,” Bodner says.) In December, when Noah Agay heard about the RAC L’Taken seminar, he texted his buddy.

“I’ve never been very vocal about politics,” Bodner says. “I let Agay do the talking for me, but after October 7, my family and I were heartbroken, so I researched the trip and decided I would love to go.”

The speech

RAC L’Taken brings teens from across North America to Washington, D.C., for four days of advocacy and action. The teens engage in discussions of ways the Reform Movement applies Jewish perspective to issues like reproductive rights, LBGTQ rights, climate change, health care, voting rights, Israel, women’s rights, and gun violence.

Noah Bodner traveled to D.C. through Congregation Har Hashem in Boulder. Noah Agay went through Temple Emanuel. When they arrived in D.C., they met students from around the country with varying viewpoints.

“We had conversations with kids who didn’t see the need for Israel, even though they are Jewish,” Bodner says. “We learned to say, ‘I value your opinion, but listen to this other view.’ This trip showed me I had a different, more vocal political side.”

The two Noahs lobbied organizers to stay together as a team, with an eye on developing a speech about their priority—Israel. They had 90 minutes on a Sunday night to write the speech—no problem after the summer of 2023.

“I think going on IST gave us the information and tools to write a speech about our personal experiences and present it to the staff of elected officials,” Agay says. “Without IST, I would have only known the basics. I would not have had first-hand experience.”

By Monday morning, they were walking through the Russell Senate Office building together, practicing their presentation. And before they knew it, they were standing in the offices of Sen. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, facing experienced political staffers.

Noah Bodner and Noah Agay in Washington, D.C.

“These are the people I aspire to be, so I wanted to make an impression,” Agay says. “We wanted to be looked at as young professionals who were serious about what we believe. We wanted to be remembered.”

Bodner and Agay’s success in Washington does not come as a surprise to Jillian Feiger, Director of Jewish Student Connection and IST.

“One of the goals of IST is that teens return able to advocate and educate others about their own Jewish identity and about Israel,” says Feiger. “Going on IST gave these two young men the skills and the passion to tell Colorado’s political leaders what Israel means to them.”