By: Jenna Raimist
Young Adult Division (YAD) Director
Picture this: It’s the fourth Thursday of November, and instead of the usual mediocrely dry Thanksgiving turkey, I’m eating a burger with all the fixings in a food court at Newark Liberty International Airport. Why, you ask? I was headed to Israel to co-facilitate JEWISHcolorado’s second-ever YAD/Ramat Hanegev Exchange with our Shaliach, Itai Divinsky.
Designed as a 9-month program to explore big topics like identity and Jewish peoplehood, this exchange began with monthly learning and conversational sessions with our seven participants, took us to Israel for seven days, and will culminate with our counterpart Israeli cohort visiting Colorado for a week in the Spring of 2023. From mountain biking through the desert; to learning about the lived experiences of Israelis, Bedouin families, and Arabs living in East Jerusalem; to food touring our way through Tel Aviv, saying this experience was an adventure is an understatement.
Perhaps the most meaningful piece of this program isn’t Israel itself, but the connections made with Israeli peers. Difficult conversations about American and Israeli politics happened nearly every car ride to and from daily expeditions (or during late-night fire pit and whiskey hangs at Udi and Yael’s house… Udi was a participant in last year’s program.) Shlomit, a participant from Ramat HaNegev, and her family hosted a nearly 30-person Shabbat dinner in her home in Retamim, kids running around and all, with zero room on the dinner table for another dish or bottle of wine. Her Moroccan herby chicken and rice is something I dream about to this day.
As we begin to plan the Israeli cohort’s week in Colorado, I can’t emphasize enough how excited we are to provide an authentic American, and Colorado, Jewish experience for the Israelis. Maybe we’ll take them brewery hopping or snowshoeing. Maybe we’ll take them on a synagogue tour to meet their first Reform, let alone female, Rabbi. The beauty of the YAD/Ramat HaNegev Exchange lies not only in creating living bridges from people to people, but in the way it allows us to expand our ideas of what being Jewish, and being a Jewish people, really means.