Senior living centers aren’t generally known for creating international exchange programs for high school students, but that didn’t stop Ovation Communities.
Tanya Mazor‑Posner, Ovation Communities, knew a high school social studies teacher in Israel. They got to talking and ended up with a program that for a week in November brought 14 teens to the Milwaukee area from Israel. The Israeli teens visited Nicolet High School for classes, volunteered at the Despensa de la Paz Food Pantry on 22nd Street, and helped Ovation residents visit the Friendship Circle coffee shop in Glendale, among other activities and volunteerism.
“For us, really, it’s tikkun olam, which is a very profound educational philosophy,” said Israeli social studies teacher David Bitan, referring to the Jewish concept of repairing the world. “And for us, being here, it’s a part of when we live tikkun olam.”
Bitan, a division head and field trip planner at his school, said he didn’t want a trip of sightseeing, even though this was many of his students’ first visit to the United States. Sightseeing was not the point.
“I told David … well over a year ago that we have the Ovation Teen Board, and they’re doing a lot of intergenerational programming,” recalled Mazor‑Posner, vice president of development for Ovation Communities. Then, the idea hit them: “Wouldn’t it be great if we developed an exchange of teens coming to Milwaukee, to do a week of volunteer service at Ovation Communities and throughout the community, and also interact with the Teen Board? So I said, okay, here we go!”
Much of the trip was planned and hosted by members of the Ovation Teen Board, which is made up of local volunteer students.
The Israeli 11th grade students all attend school at a spot south of Tel Aviv. The 14 Israeli teens and about eight Milwaukee-area teens gathered for lunch in an Ovation conference room, after helping residents visit the “Jews in Space” exhibit at Jewish Museum Milwaukee. A few stepped away to talk about the whole experience.
“For me, it’s my first time in America, so it was like a shock to me,” said Israeli teen visitor and volunteer Lian Bodkov. “I learned a lot … about the people here, how they live, because we are living with the host families, the members of the delegation.”
“Everything’s so big, like, 10 times bigger that the streets in Israel,” Bodkov added.
Another item that caught the attention of the Israel teens was that Nicolet High School students travel from classroom to classroom. At their Israeli school, it’s the teachers who travel and the students stay put with breaks. There was some emerging consensus among a small group interviewed that the American way may be better, from their perspective, for the change of scenery.
The Israel teens also visited with Bader Hillel Academy students, to give them a preview of Israel before their eighth-grade trip.
The program brings fresh young faces into contact with Ovation residents, something the residents crave. It also deepens Ovation Communities’ ties with the local community, which is good for the organization, said Mazor‑Posner. Ovation Communities is a Jewish faith-based organization, offering senior living and care options, from independent apartments to rehabilitation and skilled nursing services. It is comprised of two locations – Ovation Jewish Home and Ovation Chai Point, both on Prospect Avenue in Downtown Milwaukee.
“This is an amazing educational process that the kids have been through,” said Bitan, citing “the fact that they’re contributing and volunteering to Jewish and non-Jewish organizations during the week.”
“This is for me, a pure educational process. This is how you develop leadership. This is how you turn a student into a better person, not only better students.”