Pupils at the Yemin Orde youth village watched their homes burn during the forest fire that killed 44 people on Mount Carmel from December 2-5. But some of them have found at least some comfort, and lots of support, by interacting with 20 teenagers from the yearlong Diller Teen Fellows Program in Boston, who are in Israel for three weeks.
The American teens spent time after the disaster with 20 of their counterparts from the Haifa branch of the program, many of whom lived at the boarding school. Next, the Israeli fellows will spend three weeks visiting Boston.
“My house was suddenly burned down and I had a feeling of helplessness,” Eden Yegezau, 16, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
“Yemin Orde was my home and I felt like I didn’t know what to do with myself. However, all of the interest that the American students showed really helped me; it made me realize that people really did care about what happened – they were genuinely interested,” she said.
The American teens and the local Diller fellows travelled around the country engaging in leadership activities, taking part in a weeklong community service program and participating in a three-day Jewish global issues seminar in the South.
“A few of our students from the Haifa program went to the Yemin Orde school that burned down in the Carmel fire,” said Nicole Miller, director of the Diller Teen Initiatives.
“The students spent a full week in the partnership region learning about how Boston responded immediately to the fire, thinking about what the impact was on the local community, living in Israeli homes and understanding what the needs of the local community are,” she said.
Boston fellow Liat Deener- Ghodirker, 16, was drawn to the program due to its dedication to Jewish values and strong commitment to community service. After visiting Israel, she said she will leave with “new lifelong friends.”
“I think coming to Israel, especially at this time after the fires, brought our group closer together; because part of the participants in the program were from Yemin Orde, and so we really saw how the fire affected people’s lives. It made our group stronger,” she said.
Explained Miller, “The American students got a tour of the burned area and specifically the students that were most directly, personally impacted talked about the effect on their personal experience.”
Mamei Ambau, an 11th-grader at Yemin Orde, watched along with 500 other students as her school and home went up in flames.
“At first we were really upset that the Americans came to see our community and everything was a mess and all the beauty that was there no longer existed.
“However, on second thought we remembered how beautiful things were and explained to them how it used to be. We felt like we were not alone, they were there to be with us and understand us,” Ambau said.
While some pupils found it easy to speak about their ordeals, others like Gal Glikman, 16, from Yokne’am Illit, found it to be more difficult. A close friend, 16-year-old volunteer firefighter Elad Riven, died fighting the blaze. Touring the area with the American students was not easy for Glikman.
“During Hanukka when we had to mourn the death of Elad, it was very, very, very difficult.
All of our friends, the funeral, and the shiva, it was just hard,” he said.
“As a person who really loves the Land of Israel and likes to travel –
the first time I saw the damage around the area it just really hurt and
my mouth dropped open and wouldn’t close; I was in total shock.”
While Glikman did not open up about his personal experiences to his
American peers, he was able to find common ground and new friends.
“We talked about sports, we talked about music, we talked about fun
experiences we shared during our trips, from visiting Jerusalem to
visiting Neot Kedumim,” the biblical garden and nature preserve near
Modi’in, he said. “I made new friendships that will last for a very long
On Monday, the American participants will return to the US and will
eagerly await the arrival of their Israeli counterparts, who will get
the chance to experience life in North America. “I can’t wait to go to
America and see our new friends and how they live; it really gives me
something to look forward to,” Yegezau said.
She concluded with a simple request: “I just want to say thank you. I
wanted to be part of a leadership program, to interact with other
leaders from Israeli and American society.
So thank you, especially for all the help and the understanding, for letting us take part in this wonderful fellowship program.”
Participation in the fourth annual Diller International Jewish Teen
Congress is “part of a yearlong teen leadership program that is based on
four pillars: leadership, Jewish identity, community service and
Israel,” Miller said.