Mifgash: the program, stepping-stone and future

July 29, 2013

By Deborah Carneol, Social Media Coordinator

You may have noticed the large group of teens around the building two weeks ago, half of them speaking English, the other half speaking Hebrew.  That’s because this past month the JCC hosted, in partnership with the Milwaukee Jewish Federation and Partnership2Gether (P2G) the Teen Mifgash Program.  What is the Teen Mifgash program you ask?  The Hebrew word “mifgash” literally means “encounter” in English, but in here in Milwaukee its translation means so much more than that.  Here, the word “mifgash” has become synonymous with cross cultural learning, volunteering, socializing and life-long friendships.  To me, the word Mifgash means family.

Mifgash – The Program

For years, the Teen Mifgash Program has been bringing our community’s Jewish teens and teens from the Sovev Kinnert (the Region), our Partnership Region in Israel, together in both Wisconsin (Milwaukee and Camp Interlaken JCC) and then Israel.  This “mifgash” offers this group of teens the opportunity to learn about each other’s cultures in a hands-on way.  

The first leg of the program was held in Wisconsin, starting in Milwaukee and ending at Camp Interlaken JCC in Eagle River, WI.  Here in Milwaukee the teens traveled together all over the State.  The teens volunteered at different local agencies like Hubbard Park and the Riveredge Nature Center, they visited popular Milwaukee museums like the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Harley Davidson Museum, and the teens also had a day trip to Madison where they spent time at the UW Hillel and had a scavenger hunt down State Street.  The teens also participated in workshops designed to teach each group of teens about the culture of the other group.  The workshops were led by JCC and Federation Staff and ranged from dissecting the map of Israel to watching the video “the Tribe.”  While in Milwaukee, the Israeli teens participated in a home stay and had an opportunity to spend time with their host families to learn more about American culture.  After five days in Milwaukee, the entire group traveled north to Eagle River, to Camp Interlaken JCC to celebrate Shabbat, where they learned more about Jewish Summer Camp culture.

After their camp visit, the Israeli teens returned home, while the American teens began the next leg of their trip to Israel.  On Tuesday, July 16 the 20 American teens boarded a plane to Israel where they will spend two weeks visiting different areas in Israel.  Over their two week journey, the teens will visit the Kotel (Western Wall), climb Masada, take a dip in the Dead Sea, take hikes in the mountains and more!  The American teens will also have the chance to reconnect with their Israeli counterparts as they participate in home hospitality within the Region. While in the Region the Israeli teens and the American teens will tour the area together, strengthening their connection to each other.  Click here to read the American’s blog about their journey through Israel.

Mifgash - The Stepping Stone

This program is a once in a lifetime opportunity, bringing American and Israeli teens together, but it has the potential to spark something even deeper for these teens. This program sparked something deeper for me.  It was the stepping stone for me and my family when it came to our connection with Israel. 

Before my Teen Mifgash Program in the summer of 2004, my only connection to Israel was what I had learned at the Milwaukee Jewish Day School.  I knew about the history, and I knew second hand about the culture, but I had not experienced Israel in a first-hand sort of way.  My Mifgash Program changed that completely.  My home stay in Israel was the first time I really had a chance to live Israeli culture.  I stayed with a family and became friends with their daughter Talia.  Talia showed me what Israeli culture was like for teens.  Then, when the Israelis came to America, Talia stayed with me, and I was able to show her the culture of American teens. She was my first true Israeli peer, and she and I still talk on occasion.  

My “Mifgash” experience also opened up the world of P2G to my family.  After my Mifgash Program, my family learned about another program that was centered on creating connections and relationships between Americans and Israelis.  My family learned about the Shin Shin program, where two young Israeli emissaries join our Milwaukee Jewish community for a year to build connections between Milwaukee and Israel.  My family was immediately interested and became a host family in 2004/2005 for Noa Karsenty.  A few years later in 2010/2011, my family hosted another Shin Shin, Snir Shoshany.  The connection we made with Noa and Snir ran deeper than just the few months they lived with my family though.  Their families became my family.  We have celebrated life cycle events together like my brother’s Bar Mitzvah in Noa’s family’s synagogue, and Noa’s wedding in Tiberias this past summer. We have also enjoyed many Shabbat dinners in Israel and America with both the Karsentys and the Shoshanys.   Our connection with Israel is no longer just the history, the land and the culture.  Our connection is family.

Mifgash – The Future

My experience with the Mifgash Program provided me with more than I could have ever imagined.  I have friends and family to visit in Israel, I have a deeper understanding of Israeli culture, and a different appreciation for life in Israel.  I can only hope that the experience that this year’s Mifgash Program has inspired this year's teens and their families to get more involved.  Milwaukee’s partnership with the Sovev Kinnert Region is rare and special. Find out how you can get your teen involved in next year’s Mifgash Program by contacting Sarah Ruiz at the JCC, and find out more about P2G opportunities here