For over 40 years, the America-Israel Friendship League has built bonds of friendship between the youth of the United States and Israel through its Youth Ambassador Student Exchange (YASE).
One such bond was developed between Niv Saar (Tel-Aviv, Israel) and Andres Gonzales (Bronx, New York), Alumni of the AIFL YASE program 2005.
Niv Saar, co-founder of “Betzavta”, a hospitality initiative which brings together local Israelis and travelers to share a home-cooked dinner, shares his story–
Near the end of 2005, I participated in a delegation to the U.S. as a part of the AIFL program [YASE].
I was lucky to be hosted by the amazing Hefetz Family (Moshe, Ester and Sofy Hefetz).
During the delegation we had many conversations about the situation in Israel, the wonderful and strong bond between the U.S and Israel, how much we, Israeli and American teenagers are similar.
We visited high schools in Cleveland, OH, Los Angeles, CA and Lehman High School in the Bronx. We gave lectures about life in Israel and participated in conversations with American students on how our life as a teenager is similar in both countries.
If you were to ask me today to take part in a similar delegation, I would probably say sure, at 27 it would be a piece of cake. But in retrospect, 10 years ago, serving as an ambassador for Israel as a 17 year old teenager was quite a task.
It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, which really influenced me deeply and shaped my life.
Meeting people from different countries, being hosted in an American family, watching a high school football game, seeing cheerleaders “just like in the movies” for the first time all changed my perspective on what constitutes a meaningful and interesting vacation / travel.
Moreover, speaking about Israel made me feel very proud, I discussed issues including: the army and the fact the we have a mandatory service; the advanced Israeli High-Tech; our wish for peace; and the different initiatives undertaken by the citizens of Israel to help one another.
In addition to feeling pride, I also developed a desire to experience more opportunities where I could do this.
Since coming back to Israel after YASE, I’ve finished my bachelor’s degree at Ben Gurion University as a software engineer, and served in the IDF for the past 5 years, after attending Officer’s Course. I participated in two Birthright expeditions as an officer, and currently I am finishing my master’s degree in computer science.
Last but not least, a few weeks ago a partner and I developed a startup by the name of ‘Betzavta’.
Betzavta means “Together” in Hebrew. Our mission is to bring tourists and locals together, creating true friendships through a unique experience. Our hosts will open their homes and invite tourists for a casual Israeli dinner.
This becomes a great opportunity for them to get to know each other.
The tourist will learn about Israel, while the local will learn about the home country of their guest.
Furthermore, it gives Israelis the opportunity to share their home.
As this initiative is in its early stages, I have been active on social media conducting extensive online promotion, while trying to supervise every dinner that the website schedules to receive feedback on how to maximize the experience.
Last week, Andres Gonzales, an American participant of the AIFL YASE delegation in 2005, came to Israel for his T-h-i-r-d time!
I think you can guess the rest of the story…
He saw my Facebook post, registered, came to an Israeli host with a friend and we met there!
We sat for four hours eating and talking about everything, it was a wonderful evening.
YASE Alumni Niv Saar and Andres Gonzales, at a ‘Betzavta’ dinner, February 2017
First I want to thank you all AIFL supporters and the donors for their support of this important meaningful program.
I feel that, somehow, this program was one of the first steps leading to the development of Betzavta.