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israel.cleveland.next (icnext) is a unique two-year program for high school sophomores and juniors that educates Jewish high school students from all denominations on the core issues of Israeli society. Students in icnext cohort 2 learn about Israel, host an Israeli teen in their home for one week, travel to Israel for a unique 10-day summer experience, and lead a project in the community about Israel. Through icnext, students became expert Israel engagers and in order to educate others about Israeli life, culture, and society.

israel.cleveland.next is a project of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, administered through @Akiva. For more information, visit www.icnext.org

Bringing Our Story Home

By Rachel Cohen

Throughout our Israel trip, each one of us has seen so many unique people and places. There is no way to recreate once-in-a-lifetime experiences. After thinking back on our trip, and most especially on the activity with Assael Romanelli about portraying our stories, I have learned to express myself more and really interact with strangers to learn more about them. Pictures capture the scene, but memories and conversations make the setting come to life with relatable ideas. In the second year of our program, each member will use the techniques learned on the trip to share their stories and memories with people in Cleveland. Hopefully, more Americans will be able to feel a similar connection to the land everybody has come to love from our trip.

A Message to Potential Applicants

By Josh Podl

When I applied for this program, I didn't know what I was getting myself into. At first, it was hard for me to connect with everyone, as I only knew a few people. I was scared to host an Israeli my age because I only knew how to say a few words in Hebrew. However, as the first year of this two-year program comes to a close, I have grown much closer to everyone in my cohort, and I am extremely thankful that I had the chance to become great friends with Israeli teens.

Without a doubt my pen pal, Ron Dalal, has made me feel the most connected to Israel. Tonight I had to say goodbye to Ron, not knowing if I will ever see him again. It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. Although I've only really spent about a week or two with Ron, I have grown extremely close to him. When I met Ron in Cleveland, the language difference was a little difficult to overcome, but thanks to staying in touch over the past two months, we've become much, much closer. I know that I’ll always remember how kind Ron and his family were and all the jokes we shared together.

Turning False Expectations into Amazing Memories

By Gabe Segar

Going to Israel sounded fun to me prior to my commitment in the program, but I began to have very negative expectations when I learned about the somewhat large workload and seemingly colossal time commitment. I don’t admit this often, but I was entirely incorrect. The speakers who I assumed would be unbearable were fantastic. Not only did they give great insight into The Israeli Family (the theme of our mission), they also spanned the spectrum from traditional Jew to Arab-Israeli Muslim to African Christian immigrant. This allowed the trip to be a unique and eye-opening experience for me, because I was not familiar with some of the issues and opinions that were shown and discussed through the wide variety of people who talked to us. Looking back at how stubborn and unwilling I was, it’s kind of funny that I came to love the program so much. In essence, this was one of the most amazing experiences in my life, and it is well worth your time to check out the icnext program.

Mission Overview

By Miriam Bennett

Our trip included so many different aspects, from seeing a civil war over the Syrian border to playing soccer with non-English speaking Arab teens to explaining what “icnext” means to total strangers. We truly enjoyed ourselves and created new and lasting relationships. One of the most important parts of our trip was growing closer to “our Israelis” in Beit She’an. We built lifelong friendships and learned a lot about the daily lives of Israelis.

Each night of the trip, several of us stayed up all night with Tina writing the blogs that kept you updated on our adventures in Israel. While the blogs analyzed our educational experiences, they did not mention the “behind-the-scenes” mishaps and excitement. Our time sitting on a tour bus (yes, there was a LOT of driving) and in between activities was just as educational. We grew closer as a group and became more comfortable around each other. Our time between planned activities, which was not much, was used to take in the surroundings and learn about Israeli culture and atmosphere first-hand.

On Exhibit

These photographs are a sample of those that appeared in a traveling photo exhibition after the students returned from Israel.

'CLEarly Mishpacha' - A More Meaningful Photo Album

By Rachel Cohen

As icnext Cohort 2 traveled throughout Israel for 10 days, we had a mission. We had to answer a complex question: "What is family?"

As we worked to better understand Israeli culture, Cindy Dettelbach and Eric Leiser taught us to get to the heart of a story and how to take the best photograph. Whatever you perceive a family to be, you are probably right. There is no perfect definition for a word that describes so much. Throughout our photography exhibit, "CLEarly Mishpacha," we have displayed images varying from one person to a family of 11.

I hope you are able to find a new and deeper meaning for “family” as you look at the pictures and view our understanding of an Israeli family.

From the Philadelphia airport, to the Jerusalem Festival of Light, and to our host families' homes in Beit She'an, we interviewed people and took their pictures. Sometimes it was difficult to approach a stranger, but each time we learned more about Israel and the meaning of the word "family."

Each member of our cohort left Israel with a better understanding of how unique a family can be. We photographed "average" Israelis living their busy lives and Clevelanders visiting for the first time, and even some of our former teachers. Whether you've never been to Israel, or you grew up there, this exhibit should demonstrate the diversity of families and lifestyles that exist, even in a land with such a small population.

Blurring Boundaries

By Zach Reizes

What is a family?

Who is in your family?

Where do the boundaries between friends and family blur?

Stop reading, and answer the questions above. If you have trouble doing so, that is a good sign. The ambiguity of the word “family,” both culturally and throughout history, makes it an almost impossible term to define. Yet this is what we were asked to do as part of our icnext mission to Israel.

From the moment of touchdown in Tel Aviv our cameras were out, as we tried to decipher the mystery of what a family is. In Israel, a land of the religious and of the secular, artists and scientists, Europeans and Africans, this is particularly difficult to do.

Some excellent moments were captured in the first days of our visit. But when our cohort arrived in Beit She'an, our photographs transitioned to a new level.

In the first days of our trip we had been looking for family. Now, in Beit She'an, we got to experience it. In the moments we captured - the grin on a brother's face, the crinkle in a father’s eye – an honest definition of family is visible.

What is a family? Who is in your family? Where do the boundaries between friends and family blur?

The answers are just around the corner. Take a look as you are invited to join our global misphacha.

Sharing our Story

Bringing Israel to Hawken

By Monica Sass

At Hawken School in Gates Mills (or Chesterland if you want to be like that), the Israeli Culture Club is one of the most popular student groups. I like to think that this is because of the content of our meetings, but if we’re being honest, it’s because there’s usually free food.

Every summer, there are a number of kids who travel to Israel, and this year was no exception, despite the conflict. Hawken junior Jacob Cohen joined me in representing Hawken on @Akiva’s icnext program, during which we spent 10 days travelling through the country, travelling to cities coincidentally the day before rockets landed there, or other attacks occurred. Having stayed in Israel longer to visit with family, I arrived home in Pepper Pike just hours before the bodies of the three kidnapped Israeli teens -- Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel -- were found ... and hours before the conflict in the place that feels most like home began to escalate.

When school resumed in August, as Israeli Culture Club president, I felt obligated to somehow inform the community of the events that took place all summer, and of the rampant misconceptions that came along with them. Hawken junior Leah Meisel had also spent the summer in Israel, but arrived just after I left, which meant that her summer was filled with time in bomb shelters and rerouting her trip with BBYO. So, at the beginning of the fall, Leah addressed the Israeli Culture Club, explaining why she felt that she should go to Israel for a month despite the rising conflict. Roughly 50 students and faculty attended her presentation of the scenario in Israel this summer - facts which are usually buried in media reports.

I couldn’t be more proud of her for sharing her story, and am honored to represent the icnext program with Jacob at Hawken.

The Need to Stay Informed, Involved

By Elana Ross

Before attending the AIPAC policy conference, my only experience with political action committees was learning about them in government class. They seemed like a foreign concept. But when I entered the Washington Convention Center with 16,000 others, I didn’t feel out of place. My friends and I belonged there; we came to help ensure a strong, secure future for Israel.

Throughout our three days in Washington, D.C., I realized the importance of staying involved with Israel advocacy in the remainder of my high school career and beyond. After the escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict this summer, defending the Jewish state and Jewish people has become a great concern not just in America, but all over the world. At AIPAC, I met and listened to passionate, dedicated individuals talk about containing the Iranian nuclear threat, combatting the boycott-divestment-sanction movement on college campuses and defending Israel’s legitimacy wherever I go.

I didn’t understand everything I heard, so I asked questions and looked up things. I found myself becoming more and more interested in the issues I thought I already understood. I learned that now more than ever I need to stay informed, and always look at issues from various sides.

My friends and I were there with people who donate generously to AIPAC every year. But our presence was every bit as important. At the conference, 16,000 of us came together to fight for a common goal, Israel’s safety, and each person there was a reminder of the unwavering support this country will continue to have for Israel.


iDay Brings Community Together

By Talia Fleshler

On iDay, the whole Jewish community came together to learn about and celebrate Israeli culture. There was much planning and hard work that went into the day, which is presented each year by the icnext seniors as a day of learning to share Israel with teens throughout Cleveland.

Many of our cohort members were working in different areas like registration and games, but I secretly liked my station the best because it was food - who doesn’t love food? We served krembos (an Israeli snack made with chocolate and marshmallows), Israeli candy, and smoothies.

Throughout the day there were breakout sessions to learn about Israel. The one I attended about upcoming Israeli elections was fun and informative. Each team chose a party and we debated issues with the other parties.

The day culminated in a raffle with really cool prizes. My favorite prize was Cavs tickets (I’m VERY jealous of the winner). I can’t wait to see what Cohort 3 does next year!

You Know You’re in icnext When…

By Naomi Grant

  • “Yesh po WiFi?” and “Yesh po sherutim?” (Is there WiFi here? A bathroom?) are always the first two questions you ask in any new place
  • The adults in charge do a headcount after the bus starts moving
  • The order of activities is in the least logical order possible
  • You solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in under an hour, only to forget the solution the next day
  • Your group takes selfies with Arab-Israelis and Jewish Israelis within 24 hours
  • You become a dysfunctional family after spending almost 90 hours together without any other teens, even though you do get tired of each other, because it’s impossible not to become some sort of family

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