This Chatroom Connects Jewish Teens in Israel and America
Emily Torkiya, a 15-year-old Jewish Texan, was preparing to visit Israel on a teen tour and wanted an insider’s view. Maya Halahmi, a 16-year-old Jerusalemite, was curious about America and needed to practice English. They met last year on Zoom, trading weekly insights into their respective worlds 7,000 miles apart.
“I learned about Texas, and since Emily trains her friends at the gym, she helped me improve my workout,” said Halahmi. “I taught Emily Hebrew slang. And her dad asked me about the army.”
Halahmi and Torkiya are among the 8,000 American and Israeli Jewish high school students who have been paired since 2020 for online chats through One2One, a program of Enter: The Jewish Peoplehood Alliance. The three-year-old initiative that began during pandemic lockdowns aims to bridge the Israel-Diaspora divide through dialogue.
And there’s plenty of dialogue on One2One, where teenagers chat weekly about everything from Jewish identity to politics to high school grades.
Liel Busi, a 17-year-old from Netanya, admitted that he was “shocked to find out that Americans have two days of rest.” Now on his second Zoom partnership through One2One, Busi is delving deeper. “It’s important for us to know how Jews get along outside of Israel” as well as “the opinions of us around the world.”
“We’re using technology that’s now a part of our world to facilitate these relationships,” noted Yael Rosen, the program director. One2One’s individualized algorithm is “like online dating,” she explained, using questions about hobbies, personality and availability to pair teens.
After the two-month commitment, many teens continue their conversations on social media and WhatsApp. One2One also hosts an annual summer meetup in Israel for participants.
In Israel, where English language practice is another goal of the program, One2One works with the Israeli Ministry of Education to enroll participants. Americans, meanwhile, are recruited from various Jewish organizations; many sign up through RootOne, an Israel teen tour outfit, and earn credits toward future trips to the country.
“It’s been really cool to meet someone I wouldn’t have met otherwise and hear about the differences between Israeli and American culture,” reflected Josh Bagley, a 16-year-old from Minnesota who participated in One2One before heading to Israel last summer with RootOne. “I’ve got a new friend in Israel.”
I know an Israeli friend who is a high-ranking official of an armory, and we often talk about their culture and military life through WhatsApp.