Introduction to Mifgashim
The Ideal Conditions for a Mifgash
Some Possible Pitfalls
Israeli Participants as an Educational Tool
Over the last two decades, the Israel Experience has evolved into an industry that brings hundreds of British teenagers to Israel each year with the goal of deepening their commitment to Israel, the Jewish people and Judaism. A great deal of time, human personal and funding has been injected into this area because the Israel Experience is seen by Jewish Communal leaders as an important component in the Jewish education of Diaspora youth.
One of the heaviest criticisms of the Israel Experience programme is, however, that it does not allow any real "contact" with Israel as they travel through the country in programmes where necessary restrictions are in place to allow the other aims of the tour to come through. British teens are exposed to the country (often for the first time) as tourists and as such they suffer from a culture shock. Out of necessity they are liable to judge and interpret the host society according to their own frame of reference and processing events within their own group context. Some people say that this amounts to them seeing Israel from inside an artificial bubble, having an essentially "British" Experience in a foreign country.
More often than not a good number of tour participants come away from their Israel Experience with a very positive view of Israel and of the tour in general, but with a negative feeling towards Israelis. This often happens due to the fact that they do not have the opportunity to interact with their Israeli peers, rather basing their opinions on a few chance meetings - "rude bus drivers", "guys who try to pull our girls" or "people who chase after us trying to sell things".
Mifgashim (the Hebrew word mifgash means 'encounter' or 'meeting') is considered to be the response to this problem. Mifgashim is one of the newest and perhaps fast growing components of the Israel Experience programme, providing opportunities for Jewish teenagers from all over the world to interact with their Israeli counterparts in a structured environment thus creating a more representative encounter with Israel. One Israeli educator described the importance of Mifgashim as such: "We want the participants to experience not only the stones of Israel, but also the people of Israel"
A successful Mifgash can:
Reduce the number of stereotypes about Israelis which are created by the casual encounters as cited above
Allow Israeli and British participants to grow socially and emotionally
Enable both sides to expand their Jewish horizons by learning to appreciate each other's different perceptions of Jewishness.
Furthermore, if the correct educational framework is created both the Israeli's and English have so much that they can learn from each other - ranging from culture to their lifestyle. By opening the eyes of young people to different way of being 'Jewish' we succeed in strengthening their Jewish identity, because perhaps for the first time in their life they have to think about what it actually means to be Jewish.
Lastly, Mifgashim can also be amazing fun for your tour - it should not be looked upon as a burden but rather an exciting opportunity to use the best possible educational tool available in Israel - its people.
Organising a successful Mifgash may not be easy - but when asked the question in the words of Amos "can two walk together without having ever met" the answer is a resounding YES. Two (ie British and Israeli youth) can walk together without having met - and along the way embark on a process of mutually beneficial discovery.
This guide contains a series of both programmes for use on tour and sources for tour Madrichim to consider when planning their Mifgash.
Rabbi Simeon Bar Yochai said it is as if there are people in a boat, and one person takes out a drill, and begins to bore a hole beneath their seat. The companions say 'what are you doing?' The person replies, 'what do you care, I am only drilling under myself?' And they answer, 'it is indeed our concern because your piece of boat is ours too and the incoming water will swamp the entire boat and drown us all with it.
For too many years the Jewish people have been concentrating upon what divides us, and not what unites us together as one people. By uniting together as one people, the Jewish nation can grow and become stronger. In order to unite, however, there must first be an understanding - an understanding of the 'other part'.
I refer in particular to the gap between the Jewish communities of the Diaspora and the community of Israel and how they both relate. Do they relate? Does the average 16 year old British Jew see Israel as anything beyond a four week holiday after their GCSE exams? These are all problems that actual 'encounters' with Israeli youth can help to overcome which is why Mifgashim forms such a vital and key component of Summer Tours.
Through Mifgashim we can foster a unique connection for every tour participant to the land of Israel - this is a connection with the people of Israel. A successful and meaningful 'encounter' by a young British Jew with an Israeli counterpart can really act to add meaning to all the places and things that they have visited - in such a way that they feel the desired connection.
The above may all seem a bit idealistic - but in the words of Proverbs "where there is no vision, the People perish".
Can your tour mifgash help bridge this gap?
The ideal conditions for a Mifgash
When the concept of Mifgashim was in its early days it used to be considered fine just to throw a group of non-Israeli teenagers together with a group of Israelis and hope for the best. Now it is clearly visible that a successful Mifgash can not be achieved these methods. Even though there may well be a chance of forging positive inter-group relations, if the conditions are unfavourable (as they often are in spontaneous contacts), the negative aspects of the contact and pre-existing prejudices can only be magnified.
One should therefore think along the lines of "what are the ideal conditions required for a successful encounter" - some suggestions are as follows:
All of the participants in the encounter are treated equally within the encounter
The social climate promotes favourable contact
The contact is intimate (ie one to one) rather than group based
The contact is pleasant and rewarding for both parties
The members of the group interact in functionally important activities while developing shared goals
A combination of the "ideal" conditions outlined above with your own should act so as to lead to a very successful Mifgash.
Some possible pitfalls
The encounter between British and Israeli youth is not a standard cross-cultural encounter. Furthermore, it is complicated by the fact that the two participating populations share some common myths, rituals and history, yet on the whole interpret them differently - either as members of a minority living in a pluralist society or as members of a majority in a Jewish state. A successful mifgash must therefore take into account several basic difference:
The British youth are tourists; the Israelis are locals
The mifgash is usually carried out in English - a second language for most Israelis resulting in communications problems
For the British, the mifgash is just one segment of a broader experience; they are exposed to many other novelties and attractions during their Israel Experience. For Israelis, the mifgash may be one of the most meaningful events of their summer holiday
By the time that the mifgash takes place, the British have had several weeks to bond as a group whereas the Israelis may not know eachother very well, or have hardly met prior to the mifgash itself.
If all of the above are borne in mind from the planning and preparation process through to the actual 'encounter' then they can be overcome with a great degree of success.
What do they think?
In order to try and plan a successful mifgash it is well worth looking at the views of everybody involved in the whole process. The one group of people that is often forgotten in the whole consultation process is perhaps those people who are most key to making the whole 'encounter' a success - that is the Israeli participants.
In planning we often think of what the British kids can get out of it, but we rarely consider what the Israeli kids should get out of it. Why should they bother to give up a substantial period of time right in the middle of their summer holiday? By considering what the 'other partner' in the whole process wants out of it, one can build a programme whereby they are excited and willing participants.
This page outlines the thoughts of some past Israeli participants on mifgashim programmes.
What do you think that you can get out of a mifgashim programme?
Learn about English people
Learn if the stereotypes we have are right
To improve English skills
To make new friends, meet new people
To find out what their new friends do in London and with their free time
To make friends you keep in contact with
To learn new topics and facts
To have a good time
To let the English look at how the Israelis are Jewish
To build a 'Gesher Chai' [living bridge] to England
To learn a new perspective on Zionism
To learn new ideas
To experience something 'cross-cultural'
To (hopefully) find out we're pretty similar to English people
What can you offer to the mifgash?
To teach about Israeli culture/manners
To teach about Israeli food
To teach about Hebrew
To teach about Zionism
To give them an 'Israeli perspective'
To teach them about Shabbat in Israel
To teach some Ivrit
To teach some Israeli songs
To redefine English table manners!
To build a Gesher Chai [living bridge]
To talk about being in the army
Being active participants
Fun to be with
The above represents just what a small group of Israelis thought they could add to a particular mifgash. Many Israelis come to a mifgash with great intentions of both giving and getting as much out of the programme as they can - if facilitated properly then they will achieve their 'goals' thus greatly enhancing your programme.
Israeli participants as an educational tool
In order to best use the 'encounter' on your Israel Experience as an educational tool it is well worth considering which issues precisely the Israelis can be used in.
Suggested topics that they can add a unique angle to are as follows:
What makes up Israelis Jewish identity?
How will this differ from a British person's Jewish identity?
Why is there this difference in identities?
Who has the stronger Jewish identity?
Is there a conflict between these Jewish identities?
Israeli political parties
Systems of election
The current cabinet
The Conversion Bill and its impact on Diaspora Jewry
Life in their home town (ie a Moshav)
The religious/secular divide
The opposition to Chassidic sects
The army and its impact
Progressive movements in Israel
The Peace Process
The Golan Heights
The withdrawal from the security zone in Southern Lebanon
The geography of Israel
The list of topics which they can add to is endless!
Elul 5760 - September 2000