On our first day of the Diller Teen Fellowship’s three-week long Israel Summer Seminar, during a program called Global Congress, we participated in a session called “Where in the World?!” We placed stickers on a map to show where our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were born and then shared personal family stories with some of the other Jewish teens attending from six different continents about how and why we ended up where we are today. It was interesting to see the geographical movement of the Jewish people, particularly as many of our colleagues – from Argentina, South Africa, Australia, Canada and the United States – did not actually have grandparents who were born in the countries they are currently living in.
The Israel Summer Seminar was an amazing experience that allowed us to connect with Jewish teenagers from a variety of religious denominations and talk to them about how they practice their Judaism and what their Judaism means to them. It provided a meaningful opportunity to explore the Jewish value of pluralism in a profound way.
Through sessions like “The Key to Pluralism,” we were able to explore everyone’s diverse opinions on issues impacting Jewish life today and discuss controversial topics like a two-state solution, children of intermarriage and LGBTQ issues within the Jewish community. We were able to open up to other teens about our beliefs and perspectives in a non-judgmental way. We asked each other questions and explained our opinions on controversial subjects, and about different sects of Judaism.
It was unique to experience these types of conversations with such a diverse group of individuals. Learning about how our experiences and environment shaped our responses was eye-opening. We think that what was most meaningful about these conversations was the ability to discuss these controversial issues from a place of acceptance and not from a place of trying to convince each other to support our own opinions.
While in Israel, we had the privilege of meeting with many different types of Israelis, including our “buddies” from our respective partner cities in Israel (Montreal is partnered with Beersheba; Toronto is partnered with Eilat-Eilot), who we paired with during the high school academic year. When we went to Israel during the summer, we spent a week living with their family in Israel (they had stayed with us for 10 days when they visited Canada in April). We engaged with a diverse group of voices – including an ultra-orthodox rabbi, a Jew living in the settlements in the West Bank, an Ethiopian Jew, a Palestinian living in the West Bank, a Palestinian living in east Jerusalem, an extreme left-wing Israeli, an Israeli soldier and many more.
Not only did these conversations help us explore pluralistic points of view, they also allowed us to gain insight into some of the complex issues facing Israel and its citizens.
Now that we have returned home, we are filled with gratitude and appreciation, along with many answers and even more questions. Moving forward, we intend to continue researching these questions and developing opinions on issues relating to the Jewish world.
It was an incredible year and we feel like we are just getting started.
Lindsay Hayes and Danielle Gryfe are first cousins from Montreal and Toronto who recently returned from Diller Teen Fellows’ Israel Summer Seminar. To learn more about the 2020-21 Diller Teen Fellowship program visit UJA Federation of Greater Toronto or Federation CJA.