“We’re flying to Nashville Tennessee,
To volunteer in the GJCC
To visit the Jewish community …”
— From original song written by Israeli teens visiting Nashville
By KATHY CARLSON
Just as many Nashville tourists have done, they’ve cheered at a Sounds baseball game, visited Lower Broadway and checked out the local cuisine. But these teen visitors from Israel are also learning what it’s like to be part of an American Jewish community.
The six high school students are rising 10th- through 12th-graders and range in age from 14 to 17. They were in Nashville through the Partnership2Gether program of the Jewish Federation of Nashville and Jewish Agency for Israel, bringing together teen-agers in Southeastern U.S. cities including Nashville and their peers in the Hadera-Eiron region of Israel.
Each year, teens in Hadera-Eiron, between Tel Aviv and Haifa, host Nashville teens visiting Israel through the Nashville Federation’s Get Connected program. Later on, the Nashvillians return the favor when their former hosts come here.
“Thank you for coming all the way to Nashville,” Federation Executive Director Mark Freedman told the teens at a welcoming breakfast. “… We love the partnership, we love Hadera, we love you. … I hope to see you as much as I can. Have a great time in Nashville.”
Halfway through their stay in Nashville, the teens seemed to be following his suggestion.
Eden Cohen, 16, loves music and plays guitar and piano. This was his first visit to the United States.
He said he wanted to see “the most American things there are,” to learn about American culture and what regular people do here. So far, he’s enjoyed the Sounds game and Farmers Market and wants to go to Costco and Walmart.
“I really like the vibe here in the GJCC,” he said, adding he sees “how hard people here work to keep their Jewish identity.”
For Michal Yegar, a 7th-grade teacher and the teens’ chaperone, it was her third time in Nashville. Her oldest son, now 23, came to Nashville several years ago and played the piano at the GJCC, in the same room where she and the students were sharing lunch with a group of senior citizens. Her second son, now in the Army, also visited Nashville. “I feel like this is my second home here,” she said.
Eleventh-grader Esther Kazakov says a friend came to Nashville last year and urged her to try to come here, too. She likes working with children and loves art and the outdoors.
The path from Hadera-Eiron to Nashville involves work and commitment from the students. They spend a year in an after-school program in order to apply to go on the trip, said Harriet Schiftan, the Federation’s associate executive director. Of 100 students who participated in the after-school program, 60 applied to come to the southeastern United States and 19 of those were chosen to go to various communities in the partnership region, Schiftan says. Six of the 19 came to Nashville.
“I always had a dream to come to the USA,” said Noa Nabet, 15. The Partnership program has given her “a great opportunity to meet other Israelis and Americans.” She says she wanted to do something fun in the summer between 10th and 11th grades, because 11th grade is difficult.
For Shaked Hadar, 17, a rising 12th-grader, this is the first time she has been so far from home. It’s been a “big adventure.” She said she feels more mature knowing she has had the experience of working in the program and traveling here.
Carmi Shalev, 14, said she has enjoyed getting to know her host family. “I always knew I was Jewish but I wanted to feel (Jewish),” so she wanted to participate in the program, she says.
For Michael “Lilu” Tondowsky, 17, a 12th grader, the program gave him a chance to meet new people. “I wanted to do something meaningful in the summer and something I would remember in the next years.” •