Hadar Menashe heard about the Young Partners Group when she was in the ninth grade.
“I thought it was going to be a good experience to meet Jewish people from the U.S., learn about their lifestyle and of course have fun,” the Kfar Saba, Israel resident told the Columbus Jewish News. “It didn’t run through my mind that it would be a life-changing experience.”
That experience through the Young Partners Group, which is sponsored by the Jewish Agency for Israel and includes 46 partnerships between cities in the U.S. and Israel, connects more than 350,000 teens.
Locally, according to Michal Avera Samuel, Israeli emissary and shlicha for JewishColumbus, “a youth group from Columbus is selected and a parallel group of teens (is) chosen in Kfar Saba (Columbus’ sister city in Israel). Both groups participate in a joint seminar in Kfar Saba that will deal with examining and exploring the worlds of both communities while emphasizing the common denominator – the Jewish identity of all the teens.”
The Young Partners Group has not only created awareness, but the experiences like those of Menashe and Columbus resident Addy Feibel show it has helped build friendships that have transcended the original goals of the program.
Feibel had always been interested in exchange-type programs, and the Young Partners Group was attractive because it allowed her to live with someone her own age and in a similar life position, she told the CJN.
“We just really clicked,” Feibel said of her connection with Menashe. “Everyone in the program got along pretty well but Hadar and I were lucky with how close we became.”
Menashe said, “At first when we met, she couldn’t understand my accent easily, and for me she was talking too fast. But our friendship grew and I feel like now she’s the person who understands me the most despite our differences.
“I feel like the ‘ah ha’ moment happened instantly – we share a lot of common interests and we’re both very curious people and very open to talk about everything,” Menashe continued. “We engaged very easily. We are both very caring and affectionate. Also both our families were very welcoming and made us feel very welcome and loved.”
The pair spent that first summer program in 2013 in Israel. The next year they were in Columbus. After that, the program was over but the friendship was not. They met up again over the next summer but then had to switch to virtual meet-ups when Menashe performed her military duty and Feibel attended college. In 2021, after a five-year period, the two were able to meet in person again.
“We have met a bunch of times of course, even outside of the program,” Menashe said. “I recently went on my ‘after the army trip’ and it was obvious to me that my first stop was going to be seeing Addy.”
Their friendship has brought their families together as when Menashe became an aunt, Feibel was on the family email thread with the newborn pictures.
Feibel was also inspired to learn Hebrew through her friendship with Menashe, using it primarily “when I don’t want people to know what we’re saying,” she said.
As for Menashe, the program helped change her perception of American Jews.
“Before the program, I was debating about the role of the Jewish community abroad and questioned their practice of Zionism,” Menashe said. “But on the second part of the program when we visited the U.S. ... I was so surprised to see the moral and financial support of the Jewish community in Columbus. They don’t even know us but they felt a strong responsibility to help. Also I feel that to be Jewish abroad takes a lot more effort than in Israel,” because (in Israel) you can feel the Jewish culture even if you’re not religious at all through Shabbat, holidays, etc.
“I remember the Americans in the program knew a bit more about the customs and actually practice Judaism more than I did,” she said.
Noell Wolfgram Evans is a freelance writer from Columbus.