By Melissa Hunter
On Sunday, July 9, twelve high school students from Netanya arrived in Cincinnati for a month-long summer experience that includes a session at Camp Livingston. Selected from a pool of 100 applicants, these 12 teens will participate in many activities and outings that provide an insight into the Jewish and local culture of Cincinnati, as well as experience Jewish summer camp along with their American peers.
Sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati and generously financed by David Gershuny, the students got their first taste of Cincinnati on Monday, July 10. During the morning, they attended a presentation by Rabbi Gary Zola and toured the American Jewish Archives on the campus of Hebrew Union College. This was followed by a service project at the Jewish Family Service and Heldman Family Food Pantry. Gershuny wanted to provide the teens with an educational component to their trip as well as a volunteer component, so they “could get a true understanding of the need in our community.” They also toured Plum Street Temple and visited the Riverfront and Smale Park before ending the day at the Metropolitan Club for a buffet dinner and dessert. On Tuesday, the group spent the day at Kings Island.
Gershuny’s vision to sponsor Israeli teens and provide them with this opportunity came about after the passing of his daughter in 2005, when, upon a trip to Israel, he met several of her Israeli peers whom she had met at Camp Livingston the year prior. On his trip, he witnessed for himself their unbreakable bonds of friendship and the impact they had on each other’s lives.
Like most exchange programs, the students were hosted by local families whose children also attend Camp Livingston. After participating in the local activities, host families drove the students to Camp Livingston on Wednesday, July 12. Upon their return in August, the campers will have a final outing to an afternoon Reds game before returning to Israel.
“Being here is a dream,” one of the teens said when interviewed. “It’s beautiful here, and everyone is so nice.” When asked what they were looking forward to most, another teen replied, “getting to know new people and making new friends.”
Hirsch Wise, David’s partner, and his wife Patti originally hosted Israeli students in their home in the 1980s, and the relationships they fostered with the teenagers at that time are still going strong today. Speaking at the Monday night’s dinner, Hirsch told the young Israeli delegation, “You’re here so you can experience something totally opposite what you do at home. Take every inch of what you’ve learned here and do something with it. I’ve had numerous young people from Israel say to me, our success in life is because you brought us to Cincinnati.”
Also at Monday night’s dinner was Director of Community Planning for the Jewish Federation Felicia Zakem, who thanked David for his vision for the campers, as well as the team at Federation who helped organize the events. In his closing remarks, David added, “I want to thank each and every one of you. If it wasn’t for you all, this wouldn’t have happened. We are so appreciative [of the families] that have opened up your homes to our dear Israeli friends. And if our Israeli friends didn’t come, it wouldn’t have happened. All the pieces of the puzzle came together. You guys should have the time of your lives.”