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(photo credit: Courtesy)
Marisa Gobuty, 16, has emerged as Israel's newest and rather unlikely ambassador.
"Israel is not a scary place. It is an amazing country that everyone should have a chance to experience."
That is the message Gobuty tries to impress on American youngsters when she visits Jewish day schools in the United States.
Gobuty spent the first portion of her life between Toronto, Ontario, and Encino, California, making her well-acquainted with the various stereotypes teenagers her age have of Israel. "I've been around a lot of American kids. I know what to expect. 'Do you ride a camel to school?' 'Do bombs explode outside your house?'" Gobuty related to The Jerusalem Post.
Gobuty, who made aliya in 2004 in order to play on the country's under-16 national team, plays for the Elitzur Holon junior girls team as well as the junior national squads.
For the past two years, Gobuty has spent six months of the year in Bradenton, Florida, playing basketball and studying at The Pendleton School, which is affiliated with IMG Academies and offers students customized academics and athletic programs. Among the program's notable alums are tennis stars Andre Agassi, Monica Seles and Maria Sharapova, and soccer prodigy Freddy Adu.
While in Florida this winter, Gobuty was presented with the opportunity to synthesize her basketball prowess with her love for the Israel and her public speaking abilities.
"We were travelling so much playing in competitions, we would be at these random places and my dad told me 'These Jewish high schools heard about you and they want you to speak,'" Gobuty explained.
"These Jewish kids in the United States... the last place they think of going on vacation is Israel," she said, "they all go to Mexico or Costa Rica.
"I think its a shame they don't get to experience it [Israel]," she emphasized.
Gobuty first addressed the senior class at San Diego Jewish Academy. Using her basketball accomplishments to connect with her audience, "I started talking about different programs that they could use to visit Israel. I just told them about my experience being here [Israel], being on the national team and everything.
"The senior class just kinda sat there and stared at me. I knew what they expected."
Gobuty wanted to deconstruct the negative impressions the media has given her American counterparts about Israel. "If you live in Los Angeles you know where the bad areas are, and you aren't going to go there. It is the same in Israel.
"A lot of them had never been to Israel, but a lot of them are planning to go through programs now."
Encouraged with her success in California, Gobuty also addressed an elementary-middle school back in Florida.
Gobuty is ecstatic that she has had the opportunity to promote Israel in such a unique way. What has made the whole thing worthwhile, she said is "the fact that I can influence other people and persuade them to see the country and not what it is in the news."
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