One to One Connections

by Rebecca Hirschwerk – Director of Congregational Education

Relationships are at the heart of Judaism. Our stories, our traditions, and our teachings center on how we do the work of Torah as a community. And RSNS is about creating opportunities to strengthen, nurture, and celebrate these relationships through a Jewish lens. As we continue to navigate the trauma of the past two weeks, we are thinking about how to support the emotional needs of our community as we resolutely stand with Israelis. We met with college students who are struggling to find their voice, their place, and their community far from home. We have met with parents who are looking for guidance on approaching this with their children. And we have met with teens who are asking profound questions and wanting to know how they can help.

Over the summer I was talking with one of our amazing teachers about finding a pen pal program with Jewish students in Israel. There really wasn’t much in the way of ongoing programs for young children-of course this is because of the language barrier. But through my research I came across the One2One program through Enter: The Jewish Peoplehood Alliance, pairing Jewish high school students in America and Israel for five half-hour Zoom sessions over the course of a few months. I was planning on launching this program in February but then the attacks of two weeks ago happened and it occurred to me that this needs to happen now.

Students are matched based on age and interests. They receive curated discussion topics, but I suspect that once students get to know each other the conversations can and will go in endless directions. Over 2,000 students participated last year with some of them forming long-lasting friendships. Two RSNS students participated recently, when it was offered under a different organization, and are both still in contact with their partners. And that is exactly what standing with Israelis looks like.

One2One is exactly how our young people can stand with Israelis in a meaningful and personal way-by making connections, building relationships, and being present in their lives. It doesn’t mean they have to talk about what is currently happening in Israel. It may mean debating favorite ice cream flavors or arguing over the best Taylor Swift songs. Or it may mean a fascinating look at the differences between Americans and Israelis when it comes to growing up. Who knows? But whatever happens, our young people will feel a sense of belonging to their Israeli peers and by extension to Israel itself. And it begins with this singular relationship in which our students can say, “We are thinking of you and we are here for you.” I often talk about a Hineini moment, a moment of being present and fully aware. I cannot imagine more of a hineini moment for our teens than this.

This essential relationship-building happens every day at Synagogue School with our shinshin, Maayan. Maayan is part of a program through the JCC bringing recent high school graduates from Israel to work in area synagogues during their gap year before joining the army. What Maayan brings to RSNS is her love of Israel. Maayan is a blessing to our children as she plays with them, teaches them slang, shows them the beauty of her country, and is basically the coolest member of our faculty (sorry, gang!). And as our children fall in love with Maayan, it plants the seed for falling in love with Israel. These past few weeks have been unspeakably difficult for Maayan but we are standing with her as she continues to strengthen our community through her presence.

Within twenty-four hours of announcing the One2One program teens were signing up and they continue to do so.  If your RSNS 9th-12th grader is interested, please reach out to me. We would love to have them. I am, of course, hopeful that the program will start as planned in early November. But no matter when it starts, the One2One program will be an experience of a lifetime filled with the possibility of joy, of friendship, and of meaning. We need to hold these possibilities tightly even as our hearts are breaking and what a gift for our children to have them. It is a blessing to guide our young people on this incredible journey.

Rebecca Hirschwerk