Amnon Maggid — Connecting Israel & Cincinnati
Friend from Israel’s Host Family ‘Forever Grateful’ for Opportunity—By Liat Falah and Allyson Richards
By Liat Falah and Allyson Richards
Each September the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati welcomes two new Friends from Israel/Chaverim M’Israel. This year we welcomed Liat Falah and Stav Barkai, who will stay through summer 2018. This is the 14th year of the Friends from Israel/Chaverim M’Israel program, which brings two post-high-school teenagers from our partnership city, Netanya, to Cincinnati to share their stories, and teach people across the Cincinnati area about Israeli life. This program is part of Partnership2Gether (P2G) of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati.
Liat Falah: For five months—from my very first day in Cincinnati—I lived in Wyoming with the best family around, the Richards. What is it like to live with a host family? It’s like having more parents, more siblings (more than my own five!), and more pets.
I spoke English from the moment I opened my eyes every morning to the moment I went to sleep every night. I was part of the Richards family. I took part in family traditions, joined them in their favorite activities, ate Skyline Chili, and even started to love it. (Am I a real Cincinnati girl now?) Most importantly, I felt at home while being 6,000 miles away from home.
During those months, we celebrated holidays, including decorating the house for Halloween and eating latkes and spinning dreidels for Chanukah. I also experienced daily life—talking about our days and enjoying the changing of the seasons. I went to the pool in the summer, jumped in leaves in the fall, and scraped cars and went sledding in the winter.
I experienced my first American bat mitzvah, too! I was there throughout the planning process for my host sister Jami’s bat mitzvah. It was the first time I had seen a 13-year-old girl leading the ceremony and reading from the Torah on the bima in front of everyone. In fact, for the first time, I got to read from the Torah on the bima, which was an amazing and meaningful experience and something not commonly done in Israel. Most synagogues in Israel are Orthodox and only allow boys during bar mitzvahs to read from the Torah. Conservative and Reform congregations typically allow girls’ ceremonies, but there aren’t many of them in Israel. So it was a really big deal for me to fully participate in the ceremony.
Even after five months, I have learned so much from the Richards. I have also taught them a lot about Israel. But mainly, I feel like I’m part of the family now. Family is so important to all of us, and I’ve enjoyed being a part of theirs—from family game nights to spending time together outdoors. I look forward to the day I can host them in my own home in Israel.
While my time with the Richards is over, I am looking forward to getting to know another family. The Chaverim M’Israel stay with two families over the course of their year-long stay in Cincinnati. While I am sad to leave the Richards, I am also excited to start living with the Sterns—another amazing family that I have already gotten to know well.
I can say without a doubt my two host families have been a huge part of my experience in Cincinnati. What better way to learn about a culture than to live within it? My host families and I have a better understanding of each other’s cultures and countries, and I definitely now have a second home on the other side of the world.
Allyson Richards: My husband, Jeremy, and I never planned on being a Chaverim M’Israel host family. We actually weren’t even aware of the program. That is, until one day, I had lunch with Felicia Zakem. She shared that her family was going to host a chaver this year and that the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati was looking for another host family who lived nearby since the chavera (Liat) would not have her driver’s license for her first three months in the United States.
I remember coming home and discussing the opportunity with Jeremy and my daughters Alex, 16, and Jami, 13. We thought it could be a fun experience, but we honestly didn’t give a lot of thought to the time commitment and level of responsibility we would have in helping someone from Israel get acclimated to American life.
Fast forward to August 23, the day we met Liat in person. The instant I met Liat and sat down next to her at lunch, I knew she would be a perfect fit for our family. The fact that she ate French fries for lunch that day was the only clue I needed! Although the Federation keeps the chaverim very busy, we did our best to introduce Liat to different aspects of American life—from the oversized portions that our restaurants serve to Friday night football games, to local theater, holiday adventures, and family events (bat mitzvah!). While these were all amazing experiences and allowed us to see Cincinnati as tourists ourselves, the best times we had with Liat were spent sitting around our kitchen table, talking, laughing, watching TV, and playing games—both typical US games, such as Yahtzee, and Israeli card games that she taught us.
Liat is so sweet, caring, open, and inquisitive that it was very easy to ask one another difficult questions and have open and honest conversations. And while we definitely had some initial language barriers, we used those times of playing Pictionary and Charades to learn about one another, and we typically ended up laughing hysterically as we finally figured out what each of us was saying.
And we would absolutely host again. Our family is better off for knowing Liat, and we are thankful to have added another daughter to our family. She will forever be a “Richards” and welcome in our home anytime. Hosting isn’t always easy, but the rewards of bringing someone from another country into your home and seeing life through their eyes were incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. We are forever grateful for having had this experience.
The Chaverim M’Israel are hosted in homes by community members. The experience of hosting is as enriching for the families as it is for the chaverim. Israel is now a part of each family. And each family shares a son/daughter in Israel. If you want to learn more about hosting an Israeli teen in your home or to bring the chaverim and their story to you, please contact Sharon Spiegel, Program Director, at email@example.com.
Thank you to this year’s host families: Brett and Noah Stern, Felicia Zakem and Ken Heldman, Allyson and Jeremy Richards, Michael Zaretsky and Adrian Parr.