Merage JCC of Orange County, Irvine, CA, USA | Kfar Yona Community Centers Israel | Centro Deportivo Israelita A.C. (CDI), Colonia Lomas de Sotelo, Mexico
About the Project
The Family Tree project brings together approximately 75 teenagers, aged 14-17, from each of the participating communities (Orange County, Mexico City and Kfar Yona) to explore their Jewish identity, heritage, and connection to Israel and participate in a sport or cultural activity and a community service project in a different host community each year.
Participants build their Jewish family tree and consider how they see themselves and their families as part of both the local and the global Jewish community.
Each summer one of the participating communities hosts the others, enabling all participants to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Jewish history of each community and to develop bonds that will strengthen international ties and Jewish Peoplehood.
This year teenagers from Orange County and Kfar Yona spent a week in Mexico City where they explored the local Jewish culture, established connections and friendships with Jews around the world, and sealed their shared Jewish identity.
Highlights from the encounter included: a gala festival featuring Jewish folklore from around the world, a community service activity at Eishel, the Jewish senior care home, a visit to the first Ashkenazi synagogue and other famous sites in Mexico City, and a family tree exhibition featuring the family trees of all 75 participants (in which 646 individuals were represented from 38 different countries).
This first encounter was a great success, and we look forward to seeing everyone in Orange County in July 2016 for the second encounter, and in Israel in 2017 for the final encounter.
$75,000 for 3 years, plus in-kind
- The program has helped reinforce the Jewish identity of the participants and their families.
- We have gathered invaluable information about our collective Jewish genealogy, consisting of 646 people who originate in 38 different countries.
- The program is facilitating the development of lifelong bonds between the participants from different countries and full cooperation among the staff.
- We have developed new and innovative ways to keep Jewish Peoplehood alive and thriving.
- All three communities came together to participate in a deeply moving community service project at the only Jewish senior care home in the Mexico City region.
- The program has witnessed the enthusiastic involvement of the teenage participants, their families, and each of communities in exploring their family trees and their heritage.
- In honor of the Family Tree program’s one year anniversary, the Merage JCC in Orange County California created an exhibit highlighting the impact of the program on their local Jewish community. The exhibit opening took place on Sunday, August 23rd with over 100 people in attendance including donors, board members, program participants and their families. The exhibit will be on display for three weeks. It is open to the public, and a wonderful way for our community to learn more about the program. The Orange County teens participated in a community service project interviewing 16 local Jewish seniors. These interviews have been compiled in a book, which was donated to the Orange County Jewish Historical Society at the exhibit opening. Several of these seniors were in attendance for this momentous occasion.
- In June 2016, members from all three communities met in the Merage, JCC. Teen delegations from Kfar Yona and Mexico participated in an educational seminar.
- In Summer 2017 participating teens from all three communities met in Israel for the 3rd seminar.
- Family Tree held a meeting of their participants every other year, versus every year, this made the program economically easier and allowed for the chance for new participants to take part.
- “It was an interesting first encounter, and I am sure we will be able to repeat the experience. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about our youth, an area in which we must invest further. The information that we gained from the Family Tree Exhibition is invaluable for our communities.” [Jorge Wigisser Tajfeld, director general, CDI, Mexico]
- “This program has taught me so much about my family and the Jewish people as a whole. Before this trip, I thought the Jewish community only existed inside our little bubble. I would never have imagined that there was such a large Jewish presence in Mexico. This program taught me to look at Judaism on a global scale and appreciate all adaptations of the religion to cultures around the world, and it made me feel like I belong to an international Jewish community. I am so thankful to have been a part of this program. I learned all about the Mexico City Jewish community and met some incredible friends along the way.” [Hannah Schoenbaum, Orange County teenage participant]
- “The trip to Mexico City opened up my eyes and showed me how many people who live such a different lifestyle can still have something in common. It made me feel like all Jews are a family.” [Mika Ben-Ezer, Orange County teenage participant]