High School Youth Ambassadors Lead the Way
Happy chatter of friendship flows through the room. Smiles and laughter are constant throughout the conversation. Looking around one would think this young group of students knew each other all their lives. But the truth is, they just met a few weeks before.
Welcome to the luncheon reception for the America-Israel Friendship League (AIFL) honoring the high school youth ambassadors. A mixture of Hebrew and English is heard throughout the room as new friends continue sharing stories.
The AIFL is a 26-year-old exchange program between Israel and America. Each year, approximately 120 students from Israel are assigned to host families from the United States. For some, like one of this year's participants, Nofar Sametz, her first time to the states has been "the best time of my life."
Sametz was chosen by her principal, the Israel Embassy and the American Embassy to represent her school for the two-week exchange in the US. She says she would recommend this program to everyone in Israel. "All of the students in Israel should come just to have this experience to see that there is another life outside of Israel," says Sametz. She spent part of her time with Clarrissa Moore, a 15-year-old from Dayton, Ohio. Moore says she learned a lot from living with Sametz. "I had to learn about the food she liked, she can't have meat and dairy [together]," Moore said speaking about the kosher laws. "But she's like me, she's 15, she likes music, we both like children. They are teens just having fun; they go to the movies, they go shopping, they go skating."
Oren Moisa, a 16-year-old from Netanya, says he learned about living with a large family. Moisa was hosted by Jerius Gamble, who lives with his six siblings, two parents, one grandmother and a dog. Moisa, the middle of three children, said "It was a big pleasure to be in a big family." Moisa said they talked about Israel and the US differences until 3 AM every morning. He showed them the traditional male head covering called a yarmulke and Shekels, the money of Israel. "I learned a lot from this program and I saw there is a lot of good differences between the US and Israel," said Moisa.
"It makes me want to be more involved with what's going on," said Gamble. "I feel like I should be part of the gap that brings the two bridges together." Bridging the gap between international education and sense of self is exactly why executive vice president of AIFL, Ilana Artman, said this program is so phenomenal. "I remember when I started the program and I was meeting with a person in the State Department and I said 'here's a program that is directed at kids from every socioeconomic status that gives them a boost in their confidence, that makes them believe they can do something'" said Artman. "We take kids with leadership qualities. You give them a possibility to grow and to feel special."
Plans are in the works to expand the program into Russia in 2004. Artman also hopes to take the students to Israel in 2004 since the last three years has forced them to modify the program because of the situation in Israel.
In addition to spending time with their host families, the group was in Washington DC for four days participating in workshops on the American and Israel perspective on terrorism. They also spoke about the Holocaust and Holocaust survivor addressed the group.
Peter Yarrow, of the folk singing group, Peter, Paul and Mary performed at the luncheon. Encouraging others to sing along, Yarrow says he uses music to "help make the world a better, more peaceful place." Says Yarrow, "in God's eyes, we're all the same."#