Kesher - The Julia Koschitzky Seminar for Keren Hayesod UIA Young Leadership, is an annual event that brings young leaders from around the world together in Israel for a week of learning, networking and fun. Participants are busy with inspiring and stimulating activities that give them an opportunity to learn more about Keren Hayesod's work, Israel and each other.
The highlights for me were being able to see a completely different side of Israel than I had previously been exposed to, and see Israel from the viewpoint of other cultures from around the world.
I learned that Israel is a far more complicated country than I had ever imagined. The high immigration rates have created a very palpable caste system within the country, and it is a daily struggle to make ends meet for those in the lower castes. This makes the work that we do with fundraising so much more important, knowing that this is a real issue.
The moment that stands out most in my mind is when we went to the Net@ project. We heard from a girl who told of how she and another girl hated each other at first because they were from opposite sides of the green line. One day, she decided to ask the girl to join her for sushi, and after talking, they realized that they had quite a lot in common. When her mother met her new friend, she gave her a giant hug, and they began going to each other’s houses, and their families are now friends also.
All I could think is "this is how we are going to achieve peace someday, with steps like these, because of programs like these". We aren't just funding programs; we're funding opportunities for peace.
It helped me to attain a more visceral connection with Israel that no other program I've been on has ever done.
I would tell them to go in with the expectation of getting the best of all worlds: Taglit, voluntourism, the full red carpet treatment. They will walk away so inspired and committed to helping Israel they won't even recognize themselves. They'll make friends from around the world, and realize that all of our communities are fighting the same struggles. Most importantly, they'll have the opportunity to find a spark of Zionism in themselves that will burn so hot and so bright it will change the way they see Israel forever.
And they'll have a lot of fun.
It exceeded my expectations. Going into the program, I did not fully know what to expect. And coming out of it was group of over 25 young adults from all over the world who had the opportunity to connect and bond through an incredibly unique experience. The program really provided an opportunity to learn about the structure and services of Keren Hayesod and the ability to bring this experience and gained knowledge to our home communities.
The most significant highlights for me were the opportunity to connect so personally with other young adults from Jewish communities all over the world who have some of the same struggles and successes on engaging their communities at home.
We definitely experienced very intense, full days of programming. While this was such an opportunity, at times it was hard to digest all that was being offered!
The most important lesson I took from this experience was the ongoing need for the Diaspora to support Israel. I think this is something the Canadian Jewish community, especially younger adults, take for granted at times. The relationship between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora is so reciprocal, with each relying on each other for support. The importance was especially highlighted when having conversations with participants from Europe who feel the rise of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment in their home countries.
The moment of transitioning from Yom Hazikaron to Yom Ha’atmauot was very vivid for me. Transitioning from a time of sorrow – where we heard personal stories of young adults who lost their lives fighting for Israel or in terrorist attacks – and then shifting to a time of celebration was quite impactful. It really demonstrated the sacrifices that have been made and the importance of support for the country.
The experience really solidified the concept that there are so many Jewish people living on all corners of the Earth, with so much in common, yet their own unique traditions. It was so impactful having this international experience in Israel, as it reinforced that Israel is truly the glue keeping us together.
Don’t even question going on this trip - it is an opportunity of a lifetime! For the diverse experiences of attending special events, meeting like-minded young adults from around the globe and the chance to see the impact of the work done by Keren Hayesod.
As a young adult, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and Jewish Federations of Canada – UIA have provided me incredible opportunities to explore my Jewish identity and build community locally and internationally. After leading Birthright trips and co-chairing the Madrichim-in-Training (MIT) Program, I was presented with the privilege to join like-minded young leaders at Kesher, a week-long leadership conference in Tel Aviv. With a passion for experiencing Israel through unique lenses, I embarked on one of the most meaningful experiences of my Jewish journey.
Julia Koschitzky, the founder and visionary of the Kesher program, brings together young community leaders each year from around the world to share challenges, best practices and ideas for strengthening local and international ties amongst the next generation of Jews. Inspired by her commitment and leadership, the 2017 Kesher delegation of international leaders formed a bond unlike any other, partaking in a week of seminars, touring and learning.
One of the most meaningful moments involved commemorating Yom Hazikaron and celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut side by side with the people of Israel and experiencing the contrasting reality between sorrow and celebration. I will always remember sharing a story with the group on Yom Hazikaron about a fallen lone soldier whose memory left a lasting impact on the hearts of my previous Birthright participants. Over the course of the week, we united as one international family by sharing stories of the past, present and future and exchanging pieces of the Jewish narrative that make up our global community.
The greatest lesson that I learned as a member of the 2017 Kesher cohort was the power of community and how it expands way beyond the borders of North America and Israel. By uniting with Jewish peers from all parts of the world, such as Greece, Uruguay, Panama, South Africa, Brazil, Spain and beyond, I gained a hands-on understanding of the diverse and culturally-rich community that we are so lucky to be a part of. Thanks to this experience, I now carry a lifelong connection with international peers and am committed to helping connect the global Jewish community in ways that I never before imagined.
Simply put, Kesher was truly a trip of a lifetime. I would absolutely encourage all community leaders to embrace the Kesher opportunity, or to embark on an international Jewish experience of their own. The more that I explore the world and spread my wings along my Jewish journey, the more I realize that it truly is a small world after all!