From Strangers to Family:
My Kesher Cohort Experience

By Jill A. Snyder

Jill Snyder with Kesher family

When my dear friend, Shari Malinow, told me that she would be leading this year’s Kesher cohort along with Liz Minkin Friedman, Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership Kesher coordinator, I signed up without hesitation. I had visited Israel numerous times in various ways and, this time, was looking for an opportunity to experience Israel like a local.

I admit I was somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of hosting a stranger in my home and then staying in a stranger’s home in Ashkelon, but this was outweighed by my certainty that Shari and Liz would pour their passion and energy into making this program especially meaningful.  

My Kesher experience exceeded my expectations in every way. Initially, we participated in sessions in Baltimore to get to know our local group, learn about Ashkelon and meet our Israeli counterparts via Zoom. From the beginning, our local group bonded in our shared love of Israel and desire to cultivate relationships with our soon-to-be Israeli friends.

Jill Snyder with Kesher family

When the Israelis finally arrived in Baltimore this past spring, we were like excited parents waiting in the parking lot for their children to return from summer camp. We had each chatted with a few of the Israelis individually and could hardly wait to welcome them with open arms. While we were invited to participate in activities with the Israelis during the day, the highlight was hanging out with each other nightly with no real agenda other than building relationships with one another. Like the other Baltimore participants, I immediately connected with my guest, Oshrit. To my surprise, it felt so natural to share our home with her.  

Our Baltimore cohort was comprised of both couples and women who were participating without their husbands. Spouses who were not part of the Baltimore cohort were invited to participate in our evening get-togethers. My husband, Michael, had not expressed any interest in participating in Kesher when I described the program to him, but dutifully inquired what his obligations would be for the week that the Israelis were visiting. I asked him to participate in the opening and closing evening activities and to be hospitable to our guest. 

Jill Snyder with Kesher family in D.C.

To both of our surprises, after meeting the Israelis on the first evening, Michael returned each night and even led a group of the Israelis around Washington, D.C. He took extra care to make sure that Oshrit felt at home, and she ended up extending her visit with us. By the end of the week, Michael had grown close with several of the participants. The Israelis were insisting that he come to Israel with me in the summer. Not only did he agree to come to Israel, he formally joined our Kesher cohort, making us the first and last participants to join the group.

As soon as the Israeli cohort left Baltimore, we were eagerly counting the days until we could see our Israeli friends again. Although we were not obligated to stay with the same people that we hosted, all of us elected to do so. Our week was magical – not only because of the interesting perspective we gained from living in Ashkelon – but because we further cemented our new friendships. 

Jill Snyder with family and Kesher family

Despite the heat, we were fortunate that our Israel visit took place in the summertime because our son, Adam (age 20), was living and working in Tel Aviv as part of the Baltimore Onward Israel program. Adam and his friends stayed with our Ashkelon friends for shabbat prior to our arrival and joined our group in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for food tours of the shuks. Through these experiences, he accumulated several Israeli emahs (mothers)!  After our Kesher program ended, we were able to spend a day with Adam visiting his work and apartment and experiencing a day in his life in Israel. 

Jill Snyder with family and Kesher family

He is an aerospace engineering student and interned for a drone start-up company. Watching him navigate public transportation, shop and eat like a local was so rewarding. I especially enjoyed dining with two of his Israeli friends, and seeing how he benefited from these new relationships in the same way that we had.

All three of us returned from Israel with fond memories and life-long friendships, and we are grateful to The Associated for these opportunities. I have always felt a sense of familiarity when I visited Israel, sharing in its traditions and history.  Now that I have “family” there, it feels more like home.

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