JF&CS News Spring 2011

Since 2005, teens from Boston and Haifa have had a chance to support each other and share their experiences as Jews, immigrants, and Russian speakers through the JF&CS program, the Boston-Haifa Teen Connection.

No one would deny that adolescence is a demanding time for teens and their families. The pressures of school, friends, relationships, and hormones add up. Russian-speaking teens in the US and Israel also struggle with the added challenges of cultural differences and the stresses of immigration.

Born in Odessa, Ukraine, Dennis Averin moved to the US at the age of one with his parents and grandparents, and the family speaks Russian at home. In April 2010, Dennis traveled with a group of eight American teens to Haifa.

"Teen Connection is a really fun program. We saw a lot of beautiful places but my favorite part was hanging out with the kids from Israel. We had lots to talk about and I made friends I still keep in touch with," said Dennis.

Each Passover, the program brings together teens from each country for 10-day visits to each other's homes and schools. These teens are the children of Russian parents and, in some cases, grandparents who have left the former Soviet Union, most commonly to escape anti-Semitism.

"The program gives teens an opportunity to share their general problems, attitudes, and troubles while adjusting to a new country. Russian language and culture are the only things they have in common. They support each other as Russian speakers despite where they live," said Ena Feinberg, Director, JF&CS New American Services.

The program helps teens examine all aspects of their identities as Jews, Russians, immigrants, Americans or Israelis, and consider how they would like to present themselves in their new worlds. It also helps them develop communication skills, leadership skills, and create friendships that continue through email and Skype.

"We taught [the Israelis] a lot about America and we learned a lot about Israel. Teen Connection gets rid of all the preconceptions. It's a broadening experience that makes you open to other cultures," said Dennis.

Teen Connection started in the winter of 2005 when a group of Russian educators from Haifa visited Boston and were struck by the similarities between the experiences of Israeli and American Russian-speaking teens. During that initial visit, the seeds of the idea were planted for the program that became the JF&CS program.

In July 2005, JF&CS hosted the first group of twelve Israeli students and their teachers from BOSMAT Vocational High School in Haifa. The following April, the American teens visited the students whom they had hosted the year before.

On a typical visit, teens stay with host families, have educational seminars and workshops, attend each other's schools, and visit local cultural and historical sites. Visitors to Israel also receive an introduction to Hebrew and workshops abut the culture, history, and founding of Israel, while visitors here visit Boston-area colleges and enjoy a one-day trip to New York City.

The program is one more way JF&CS reaches out to new Americans of all ages to help them as they adapt to their new homes and the Boston community.

For more information, call 781-647-JFCS (5327) or email your questions via our contact us page.