Net@ youth learn about the American Jewish community in Kansas

The initiative was spearheaded by the Net@ program for Jewish and Arab youth in Israel.

 Net@ students from Ramle visit Kansas. (photo credit: Neta@ Youth/Appleseeds)
Net@ students from Ramle visit Kansas.
(photo credit: Neta@ Youth/Appleseeds)

Nine Jewish and Arab Israeli students from Ramle traveled to Kansas this month to get to know the Jewish community and participate in joint programming.

The initiative was spearheaded by the Net@ program for Jewish and Arab youth in Israel that focuses on training students living in the periphery and from low socioeconomic backgrounds in technology.

Ramle and Kansas City are sister cities. But an exchange of this nature had not happened in recent memory, if ever, and was the catalyst of an 11th-grade student in the program. The student had expressed interest in learning about the Diaspora and brought it to the attention of her counselors. A few months later, a trip was planned for six Net@ students and three Wings of Krembo program participants through Neta@’s parent organization Appleseeds, and funding from the city of Ramle, the Ramle Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Kansas City.

The students were picked in October, recalled 11th-grader Darine Abu-Amer, who was among the delegation. The students learned about the Jewish community in America for five months to prepare for their visit. Then, they boarded a plane in March to see it for the first time.

They slept in people’s homes, visited a synagogue and church, and participated in activities at the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy - the local Jewish day school. The youth also volunteered at a local Jewish food pantry and a senior center.

 Net@ students from Ramle visit Kansas. (credit: Neta@ Youth/Appleseeds) Net@ students from Ramle visit Kansas. (credit: Neta@ Youth/Appleseeds)

“Everything there was so different than here,” Abu-Amer told The Jerusalem Post. “Everything was big - big products, large amounts, just very different than Israel.”

She said it was a bit of “culture shock,” but she liked learning how Jews in America live compared to Israel.

‘I like their way of life,” Abu-Amer said. “People are so nice, and the neighborhoods are beautiful. When I returned home, I cried because I wanted to be back there. I hope I can bring a little of the Kansas culture to Ramle. They live a good life there.”

The Greater Kansas City Jewish community

According to a report published recently by Brandeis University, the Greater Kansas City Jewish community numbers approximately 28,300 adults and children, of whom 22,100 are Jewish, living in 12,600 households. There is only one Jewish day school attended by Jews of all streams. The local federation reported raising around $5 million yearly to support more than 80 Jewish programs and initiatives in the area.

Net@ is Appleseeds’ program for youth in grades 5-12 and aims to provide technology training to youth who otherwise may not have access. According to Appleseeds CEO Anat Tzur, many Net@ graduates join the army and can serve in elite technology units.

The program also includes a volunteer component, aiming to make the students “good citizens,” she told the Post.

The Appleseeds program, in general, aims to create digital equality in Israel. Since its founding in 2000, it has reached millions of people of all ages and from all parts of the Israeli population.

Tzur said that one of the best parts of the experience was that the youth in the program who dreamed of it saw that dreams could become a reality.

In addition, the visit to such a diverse community like Kansas, where Jewish citizens are a minority and Jews of all streams coexist in relative harmony, served as a positive model of the power of coexistence.

“The kids, when they got back, became role models for their chapters, all of Net@ and youth in Israel in general,” Tzur said.