Tzofim scouting program reconnects Israeli-American teenagers with their cultural roots


Friends of Israeli Scouts program consists of events that rekindles cultural ties in Israeli-American youth, enabling them to form stronger bonds with each other

Ziv Amsili, Eastside Staff

While attempting to form a deeper connection between myself and my culture, something like Israeli scouting had never occurred to me before.

I had always known that the Tzofim–the Hebrew word for scout–had developed into an enormous presence in Israel, because I had previously been exposed to the nationally-acclaimed program over the summer. My friends told me that they had religiously attended scouting meetings multiple times a week, and that almost every child and teenager in Israel was devoted to the program.

After attending just one meeting, I realized what it meant to enrich a sense of unity between people, and that the friendship between teens in Israel inspired their dedication and respect for Tzofim. I was lucky enough to view young leaders from ages 15-18 lead a young group of children, ranging from third to ninth grade. They explained other important aspects about the scouts, such as the tribe divisions between national regions and seasonal competitions between tribes.

Previously, however, I unwaveringly believed that, that unless I moved back to Israel, I would never become a member of this Israeli movement-I thought that it was only part of a separate world, prevalent only in Israel.

Before the school year began in September, my mother informed me of an Israeli-based scouting program in the United States, called Tzofim Garin Bazaar- an extended branch to the Israeli Tzofim, which was created for Israelis in foreign countries. As the closest tribe to Cherry Hill, located in Philadelphia, I would be attending Shevet Pa’amon, or the “Bell Tribe”.

At first, I felt reluctant to attend- my deteriorating fluency of the Hebrew language would render this solely Hebrew-speaking based program a challenge. I also had not considered the weight of the commitment that was required of me; I was required to attend weekly three hour meetings, in addition to the two hour commute. And I had never before encountered any of the Tzofim’s members, because most of them had lived in Philadelphia.

However, I ultimately decided to attend the yearly seminar that was held in early September, in hopes of expanding my cultural horizons and befriending new people Israeli-Americans who shared my culture.

I learned different perspectives on why people Tzofim played such an important role in people’s lives. Some recently immigrated from Israel, wanting to remain connected with their Israeli roots. Others aspired to enrich their leadership abilities while still having a fun experience.

All teens who attended the seminar became this year’s counselors. The seminar marked the beginning of Tzofim in the new year, and counselors reflected on their goals, not only for themselves, but also for the kids they would direct in the 2019-2020 school year.

This mere day and a half long experience taught me the importance of creating a sense of nurturing and fostering a cultural connection within younger children. It also showed me Israeli teens in America have the power to familiarize themselves with their Israeli culture.

“When I entered the scouts in eighth grade, it made me change a lot,” said Sharon Cohen (‘23), the current Merakezet, coordinator of the entire Pa’amon tribe. “My views on daily things changed, my desires to help, give, and influence [others] grew, and I felt [that] I was part of one big family. It also prepared me immensely for when I served in the army”.

After the seminar, my perspective on the weekly meetings had transformed. I realized I needed to create deeper relationships with other teenagers who shared my background to further my Israeli connections, as well as to understand how to interact with younger children.

I also noticed that that Israeli children and teens developed more intimate connections with their culture at the seminar. Their required uniforms- a Khaki shirt and pants-reflected an innate sense of equality. Additionally, the worldwide Tzofim salute, which includes raising the three middle fingers at the end of each session, illustrated the program’s deeply-rooted unison.

Tal Keshet (‘20), the rashgad of the shevet (in charge of 3rd and 4th grade counselors) believes that “ the spirit of Tzofim stays wherever you go. It’s still an Israeli youth movement that fosters leadership and community growth”.

Although I had just embarked upon my journey with Tzofim, I hope to continue to strengthen my Israeli-American ties while instilling my love of my native country within younger Israeli children, and to help hone their thinking skills. I strive to inspire the younger children to become unique leaders one day, and to reflect the Tzofim program’s values of spreading compassion for others and reflecting goodness into the world.