Pictured: Brian Goldfarb and his adoptive parents at the Masa Gala, May 2006
Many Masa-affiliated programs include relationships between adopting Israeli families and young people from abroad spending an extended period of time on a program in Israel. The Cohen-Ahdut family at Moshav Shekef, adjacent to Kiryat Gat has "adopted" Brian Goldfarb, a participant in Otzma.
Brian Goldfarb, the "adoptee" – a 23 year old young man from Skokie, Il is quick to credit the Chicago Jewish Federation for his participation in Otzma. The photographic imagery comes naturally into the story of his relationship with the Cohen-Ahdut family, in light of his bachelor's degree in Photography and Anat Cohen-Ahdut's artistic inclinations. Anat is the mother of the host family, an artist and a banker. Her husband Yaakov is invested in the agricultural aspect of the moshav, with grapes and tomatoes his source of livelihood, according to Brian. The Cohen-Ahdut family does not simply provide Brian with "adopting" parents – it makes him the only brother to their five daughters who range in age from 8 to 21 with those in the middle being 13,14, and 20 years old, respectively. In fact, this is the first time that they have ever engaged in this tradition of "adopting" a young person from abroad during his/her stay in Israel.
After completing college, Brian sought the longest Israel program he could find, and preferably one that would allow him to try out as many different cities and jobs in Israel as possible. Since the end of August, as an Otzma participant, he has spent three months living in Ashkelon, working in the Kfar Silver Youth Village, three months living in Kiryat Gat where he taught at three schools and then volunteered teaching English after school, and he is now in Jerusalem for several months. The adopting family experience began with a 20 minute bus ride from Kiryat Gat to Moshav Shekef.
All that is required of the host families is that they see the Otzma participant once a week and host him/her on holidays. It's difficult to decide who describes their first meeting more passionately, Brian or Anat. Brian gives the details. With a mixed tone of exhilaration and complacency, he will tell you that the 20-year old immediately took him out to go shopping for clothes so that he would dress more like an Israeli! The 21 year-old took him to a bar, he played with the little one and almost immediately began planning with the two high-school girls to go to work in their school.
Anat provides more technical background information, explaining their family involvement in this program in the context of the regional Partnership 2000 relationship between Chicago and Kiryat Gat and its vicinity. From her point of view, as one involved in the "hosting" role and as a "spectator" observing the interactions with her children, she notes that the initial contact worked best with her oldest daughter because she has the best English, citing that there is a special, unique relationship that has developed between Brian and each member of the family. At first, it may have been a bit artificial, but Anat hastens to confirm details provided by Brian and embellish them.
Once a month? While still in Kiryat Gat, Brian slept over at the Cohen-Ahdut's home every week and continues to visit them every other week. Whenever Anat went to Kiryat Gat, she did what struck her as natural: visit Brian and bring him tomatoes from the moshav. Brian would visit the older girls where they worked in the mall and show up with his friends. He described the sense of pride demonstrated by the high-school daughters in walking him around their school, boasting their friendship with an American. Anat elaborates on the initiative Brian took in order to work at her daughters' school. However, before contacting the school and making the necessary arrangements to volunteer there, he consulted with the two girls to be certain this was acceptable to them. Anat marvels at his sensitivity to teenage girls and the possibility of the situation embarrassing them. The girls in fact, received the idea wholeheartedly, and Brian's description of their behavior with him at school says it all.
From the observations of a mother, Anat comments how greatly this has improved their English and how she enjoys watching her daughters enjoying the added attention that Brian brings to them. Her praises for Brian are unending and she concludes them by saying that these things make it such a pleasure to do anything for him.
If Brian had not attributed to Anat the fact that he will soon be opening an exhibit of photographs he has taken of Kiryat Gat, it seems that Anat's modest nature would never have exposed the matter. First of all, Anat likes Brian's photography – they reflect who he is, she says. She first saw his work as a result of her visits at his apartment in Kiryat Gat. This resulted in the two artists working together. They are doing one project in which Anat paints over photos done by Brian. Brian also gratefully relates how Anat taped together 100 shots he had taken of the Kotel and laminated it, producing a piece that is 2 m. x 1/2 m. (2 x 6 ft.) On May 23, 2006, in Kiryat Gat, a photo exhibit of works by Brian Goldfarb will be opened, following the initiative of the curator, Anat Ahdut-Cohen.
A picture paints a thousand words – but that does not say it all! One family has embraced another and when Brian's parents came to visit everybody met – more than once. Now, one of the teenagers awaits acceptance to a summer camp program in Chicago, and then Brian and his family will be able to host her on their territory.
The Ahdut-Cohen family was elected as the "best" host family. Anat was surprised. It became clear that this was a result of how pleased – and appreciative – Brian was with the warm and special welcome and hospitality extended to him by this family. There is no question about that if you speak to Brian. Anat modestly attempts to reduce any credit to them as the "best host family," repeating the reaction of one of her daughters: "But Mom, it's not us; Brian is happy and grateful for whatever happens to him!"