Maayan Levi Edwards is Minnesota’s newest addition, and has done nothing but contribute to the Twin Cities Jewish community since moving here from Israel. Edwards is currently working as a teacher at the Beth El Aleph School, in addition to coordinating a new program for Yachad which facilitates a partnership between the Minneapolis Jewish Federation, The Israel Center and the Jewish Agency’s Partnership program to bring a teen exchange to teens of Minneapolis and Rehovot. We talked to Maayan about her plans for the new program, her love of working with teens and her time in Minnesota so far in this week’s Who The Folk?!
Where did you live in Israel before moving to Minnesota?
I grew up and lived all my life in Hod HaSharon in Israel. I studied in Muss. I don’t know if there’s a lot of people that send their kids there from here, like from Minnesota to Alexander Muss, the high school. And then I served in the army, I was an intelligence officer and I studied psychology and I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
How do you think the Jewish community in the Twin Cities compares to the community in Hod HaSharon?
First of all, it’s different being an Israeli and living in Israel. I think in general it’s different than living in America. I think that the Jewish community here is so wonderful and people love other people, and are welcoming and I’ve felt really blessed since I came here and felt really welcomed and I felt all the warmth and everyone really, really took care of me and were very happy to make me feel part of their community.
Can you talk a little more about the new teen exchange program hosted by Yachad that will take place between teenagers in Minneapolis and Rehovot?
So part of this program, why I think it’s really special is because the teenagers get the chance to actually explore the other groups’ city. So we’re going to fly in December to Israel and Rehovot families will host us for a week in Rehovot. The teenagers will be involved in a leadership program and classes and are also going to see how these teenagers live in Israel, and vice-versa. The children in Israel are going to come here I think one week before Pesach, so both of the programs will have the opportunity to see different experiences in different countries. So that is the partnership between Minneapolis and Rehovot and I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for both of the teens to learn, and that’s why when I said when they have great opportunities to learn from each other, I meant that because they’re actually going to be in their hometown and they’re actually going to be doing things together. So as much as the new classes will be similar what I’m going to teach here and Karen, the other lady that will teach in Rehovot, know that we have the same kind of curriculum but we also have the opportunity and chance to meet with the other kids to make them actually see and be involved in a different community.
It’s the first year that it’s happening. This is a very specific and new kind of program and it’s very unique because the teenagers that will be involved in this program will be selected and they need to be committed to it and it’s very serious and well thought, and a lot of effort and resources are involved in this process so it’s a very serious and unique program and this is going to be the first year that it’s going to happen.
What is your official position within Yachad in regards to this new Israeli teen exchange program?
I am going to be the instructor. The head of the program that’s actually going to do all of the classes with the kids. I’m going to do all of the curriculum together with Amy (Weiss) and Dana (Prottas) and we’re going to create a curriculum for these programs and I’m eventually going to go with the kids on a trip to Israel and to be the head of the program and do all of the classes with them.
Why did you want to get involved in Yachad in the first place?
It’s a very special program because it talks about leadership and empowerment and connection to Israel from different angles. It talks about telling the stories of leaders and telling the stories of who we are in this world, but puts an emphasis on the leadership and the connection to Israelis that are the same age and we’re doing something together in two worlds and we’re making a combination and making a connection between children in Israel and America. And this is a great opportunity to actually talk about values, talk about leadership, empower character, strength and personality. This is the time to dig in in history and our personal stories and the children and the teenagers, and to be involved in the community.
Do you find it easy or hard to engage with teenagers when working with them?
I see it as a great opportunity. Teenagers are the perfect age to start to talk about Israel. What is leadership? Who are leaders? How can I be a leader? What can I contribute to my community and other communities? And that’s why I think this is the perfect age. I see it as a great opportunity to work together, and for them to learn more and this is the time that they are starting to understand themselves and understand what they want to do in their lives and they’re starting to think about it. So I think it’s the perfect time for teenagers to start to talk about all of these ideas and the values and to know more about other communities in the world, and to learn and be better. I think it’s very important for them [teenagers] to see great models, to think about great models, to try to be involved in their own community and to give them the opportunity to take part, to participate, to be more active and to see different teenagers doing kind of the same thing in other places. But for them it’s a great lesson for both of these worlds, also Israelis and these teenagers to learn more and to help each other, and to make more friends, and to influence other people in the world. So it’s a great opportunity I think.
As you start your new position with Yachad, do you have any personal goals or goals for the program as a whole that you would like to see happen?
Yes, my first goal and I think I told you that we consider how all of the teenagers will be involved and how we will have them to develop their point of view to understand other people’s points of view. To understand what it means to be a leader in this world, when all of the media is involved and it’s a very global world, and you know, sometimes it feels that borders are becoming really really small. Like we’re really close to other countries because of the media. And I want them to learn and experience how it is to be a leader nowadays. Like what you need to do. How we can work together as a team? How can we be a part of a community and what is our job within the community to make it better? And I think that’s all if the goals that I see for the program and for myself trying to teach the teenagers and for that program to be, at least for this year. And of course we’re going to learn more in the future, and we’re going to learn what works better and what works less. So that’s the main goal. How we can be good leaders, good people, good people in the community, learn from our communities and take advantage of that, and make this community and other communities better.
How has your time in Minnesota been so far?
It’s been great. I’ve really gotten to know a lot of people and the community is fantastic. Both the Jewish community and the Israelis. I’ve been involved in a lot of events related to the Jewish community and I think I see this job and position as an incredible opportunity for me to also get involved and be a bigger part of the Jewish community. And I’m also currently teaching Hebrew in the Beth El Synagogue Aleph School, so it was also another platform for me to be part of the community and so far I feel fantastic.
What has been your favorite part about living in Minnesota?
First off, Minnesota is so calm and relaxed, and the nature here is absolutely amazing. To be able to walk around lakes all the time and be surrounded with all of this beauty is a privilege and I’m really thankful about that. And also I’m a very people-person, so to be part of a community and to find more friends and to be part of that here I think was the best thing for me. So my hobbies in general are being with people, reading a lot. I do read English also and it’s very important for me to be active and to be a part of the community. I feel that because it’s not such a big community like New York or LA, it’s definitely unique in how it works here. So people know people and are welcoming and ready to help and really give their heart and soul. So that’s why I’m feeling really blessed here.
Favorite Jewish holiday?
I think Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah, at least in Israel, has all these traditions and always feels like a new beginning. They really think and you know, dig into your soul and think ‘what have I done good, what have I done less good this year.’ And to think better. I think that’s why I like Rosh Hashanah, because it symbolizes new beginnings and starts and I always love the energy. At least in Israel, I had this feeling that everyone is praying and thinking and there is a lot of good energy, and that is my favorite part of the year.
Favorite Jewish food?
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