“Fun, spiritual, and sleepless” is how Eli Brand described his recent trip to Israel. Eli traveled with a group of 28 local teens on the Merage Jewish Community Center’s JCC Global Teen Fellows program. They met up with an equally large and exuberant group of Israeli teens from our partner JCC (matnas) in Kfar Yona, Israel. The goal of the program—an initiative of JCC Global, the international association of JCCs—is for Jewish teens to experience Jewish Peoplehood, expand their world through personal connections, and develop a foundation for becoming community leaders, as well as have a ton of fun.

The Merage JCC teens were awed by Jerusalem’s Old City, especially the Kotel. They felt like they traveled back in time to the reign of King David as they waded through Hezekiah’s Tunnel. They shared emotional moments during their visit to Mt. Herzl National Cemetery, where they honored Israel’s leaders and fallen soldiers, and at Yad Vashem. Jonas Holdaway reflected, “I was able to grasp a greater understanding of the ways in which Jews in Jerusalem connect to our religion, therefore enabling me to enhance my connection to Judaism and the Jewish people.”
At Moshava Kinneret, the teens learned about poets and pioneers who shaped today’s Israel. In Tzfat, one of Israel’s four holiest cities, they explored Jewish mysticism and enjoyed interacting with local artists. On a Jeep tour through the Golan Heights, they learned about the geopolitics of the region.
The heat of the Middle Eastern summer was tempered by hikes to natural springs, swimming at Sachne, cruising on the Sea of Galilee, rafting on the Jordan River, and an epic pool party. Evenings were spent strolling on Ben Yehuda Street, relaxing on hammocks at Kibbutz Degania, and playing sports, dancing, and “chilling” with their Israeli counterparts.
They enjoyed a Fourth of July barbecue with an Israeli twist and a discussion about Jewish identity in America.
While discovering Israel’s famous and not-so-famous tourist destinations offered adventure and learning, the OC teens cited the hospitality of their Israeli hosts as the most impactful part of the trip. According to Beaue Bernstein, “I felt a sense of home even when I was a world away from Orange County. Our host family welcomed us into their home with open arms and embraced us as if we were their own family.”
The Jewish value of hachnasat orchim, welcoming guests, took on new meaning for the Merage JCC teens. Ari Cohen shared, “We have had the opportunity to discover so much about Israeli life and culture, including the amazing home cooked food. I got to experience the day to day life of an average teenager living in Kfar Yona, and to form a forever lasting bond with my new Israeli family.”
Read the JCC Global Teen Fellows blog entries at


In their own words

  • This trip has really brought a new light to my eyes in terms of friendship and leadership. Learning about the incredible leaders when touring Israel taught me that you have to take initiative to make things happen. This doesn’t only apply to high standards such as building the foundations of a country, but to little things like friendships and compromise. – Anna Weinberg
  • The best lessons in leadership come from people who’ve lived them. I learned that being a leader doesn’t just mean to be in charge, but also to set an example for your peers and help them succeed. – Sivan Yehezkel
  • Throughout our time in Israel we have encountered many new experiences, cultures, and lifestyles. While many of us have been to Israel prior to this trip, this trip serves a new purpose, to unify. All the activities and places we have traveled to so far have proved to test our ability to collaborate and ability to get in touch with our Jewish heritage. – Jared Maister




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