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Connecting With My Jewish Roots

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Throughout the past year, the Diller Teen Fellows program has worked to teach its fellows the importance of leadership, Jewish identity, love for Israel, Tikkun Olam, pluralism, and Jewish peoplehood. As a fellow this past year, I’ve learned what each of these core values truly are and formed a strong personal connection to each as I strive to take on a leadership role in the Jewish world. This summer I continued that journey as I connected with these values on a new, deeper level during Diller’s Israel Summer Seminar. For three weeks, I not only got to see much of Israel’s beauty, but for the first time, hear from the diverse faces of Israel.   

Cohort 5 Tel Aviv

Before this experience, I had been a tourist in Israel numerous times, but when Diller and JUF gave me the opportunity to live with a host family for a week in Chicago’s partnership region of Kiryat Gat, Lachish, and Shafir, I began to feel at home in Israel. Although I experienced many intriguing cultural differences, I was surprised, and comforted, to find similarities in our families’ Jewish practices and traditions that brought me incredibly close to my hosts. Throughout that week, I was given an opportunity that no other tourist receives-- to live an authentic Israeli life and feel as though I could call Israel my home. 

Cohort 5 Kids

Following the home-stay, Diller provided the fellows with a life changing experience that is unique to this program-- the chance to connect with Jewish teens from around the globe at the Diller Teen Fellows Global Congress. I was able to explore my Jewish identity with teens from 32 communities around the world and heard the perspectives of hundreds of teens from different backgrounds regarding politics, Judaism, family, and numerous other topics. After learning about Jewish pluralism over the past year, I was given the opportunity to experience and be a part of a pluralistic community this summer, as I befriended Jews from parts of the world I’ve never seen. To me, the most powerful aspect of this encounter was the ability to engage in lively discussions, debates, and disagreements with peers from around the world, and in turn, gain perspective, broaden by view on the world, and strengthen my Jewish identity. 

Cohort 5

Without the Diller Teen Fellows Israel Summer Seminar, I wouldn’t have formed such a close and personal connection to Israel and other Jews across the world. Just as importantly, I wouldn’t have built a strong, meaningful Jewish identity. I’m incredibly grateful for the unique opportunity that Diller Teen Fellows and JUF gave me to connect with my Jewish roots and continue to make an impact on my Jewish community-- both in Chicago, and around the world. 


-Orly Lewittes, Diller Cohort 5