Maia Morag — Israeli Chronicles
Jewish Federation’s Emissaries from Israel Call Wyoming Home
Cincinnati — From the tree-lined streets to the bustling sidewalks, to the unique neighborhood customs, two post-high school teenagers from Israel are loving life in Wyoming. Liat Falah, 18, and Stav Barkai, 19, are serving the Cincinnati community as this year’s Chaverim M’Israel (Friends from Israel), a Partnership2Gether (P2G) program of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati.
Liat and Stav are from Netanya, Cincinnati’s partnership city in Israel, and were selected as the top two candidates from that city to represent Israel in Cincinnati. Both have chosen to defer their Israel Defense Forces service for a year in order to help the Cincinnati community form an increased awareness of and a connection with the land, culture, and people of Israel through education and interpersonal relationships.
They bring Israel alive to the youth they interact with at public, private, and Jewish schools in the Greater Cincinnati area. Past Chaverim have been regulars at Wyoming schools; Liat and Stav hope to have an opportunity to go back this year.
From August until January, they are both living with host families in Wyoming—Liat with Allyson and Jeremy Richards; Stav with Felicia Zakem and Ken Heldman. The Chaverim program relies on host families to provide a warm, supportive environment. For most, it is their first time away from home, and their first time in the United States.
“Stav and Liat are just teenagers, and have left their homes for a full year, in order to teach Americans about the country they love,” Heldman said. “While Stav clearly prefers tahini to Skyline, it’s been fun to share ‘all things Cincinnati’ with him and learn about our different cultures and customs. In the end, we realized we’re not so different after all—a refreshing thought these days.”
Stav and Liat immediately noticed the charm and appeal Wyoming has to offer.
“I love that there are sidewalks and that they’re full of people,” Liat said. “Everybody knows each other, and everything is so close.”
“I was struck by all the incredible homes in Wyoming,” Stav said. “They’re really open, and many have beautiful gardens. Also, deer just roam the streets.”
In addition to the storybook setting, the Chaverim are enjoying many rich Wyoming traditions.
“In October, we went to the Wyoming Pooch Parade,” Stav said. “I never expected to see the community members get so into it, but it was incredible! Our dog, Maggie, was dressed as a cup of coffee.”
“And our dog, Finley, wore a hot dog costume with a tiny cowboy hat,” Liat said. “It was so much fun!”
This fall the pair went to the Fall Festival and Wyoming’s Homecoming parade and game.
“Homecoming was really impressive,” Liat said. “Everyone lined the streets and cheered as cars passed by. Each class of high school students created its own float, including Shrek, a dragon, and Kung Fu Panda.”
“I had never seen a football game before coming to the United States,” Stav said. “I didn’t understand all the rules, but just being there and seeing everyone cheering was amazing. I’ve now seen two different football games—the Cowboys and the Bengals. I can say with 100% certainty that the Cowboys are much better than the Bengals!”
The Chaverim raved about Wyoming’s delicacies—Wyoming Bakery, Half Day Café, and Tela. Just like the rest of the neighborhood, they’re eagerly anticipating the opening of Wyoming Coffee, which will be just steps from Stav’s front door.
Both are enjoying the outdoors. Stav hit the links with his host father at Wyoming Golf Club, a first for him, where he learned to putt and hit balls on the driving range. Liat enjoys walking around the neighborhood, even (and especially) with all the school traffic.
“What’s really special about Wyoming is that there are no school buses,” she said. “Everyone walks to school, and there are always people out jogging. It reminds me of Israel; you meet people on the street.”
“There is a family feeling to the neighborhood,” Stav said. “Everyone is so nice and kind. Wyoming has the feel of a small town, but it’s close to big city amenities, like professional sports teams, arts venues, and restaurants.”
For the second half of their stay, Liat and Stav will live with families in Symmes Township and Hyde Park, respectively. Then they will serve as counselors at Camp Livingston, a Jewish overnight camp in southeastern Indiana, before heading back to Israel.
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