Israeli visitors enjoying new Magic Moments

Ofir Buchbut, Daniel Abrams and Yarden Millington at Muswell Hill Synagogue

Ofir Buchbut, Daniel Abrams and Yarden Millington at Muswell Hill Synagogue

Showing off her new necklace, Nofar Valal explained why the gift from her British host family meant so much. "You see these two hearts? One is for the diaspora, one is for Israel. Together we are one big family."

Ms Valal has spent the past eight days leading the UJIA's Magic Moments programme, the annual scheme bringing some 60 teenagers from northern Israel to meet British Jews and stay with families across London and in Manchester and Leeds. They also contribute to the programming of Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut events.

The 25-year old was a participant on the pilot trip nine years ago and is still amazed by the welcome the youngsters receive. "You really build a personal connection and it's only the beginning. Now the British people have a family in Israel they can turn to and we can show them the Israel that isn't on TV."

Fifteen-year-old Hadas Fiorentino from Shlomi near the Lebanon border said members had visited schools, synagogues and old age homes to discuss life in Israel - everything from the Lebanon war to the relationship between the religious and secular.

"I wanted to tell my point of view, to show Israel's side," she said. "Outside of Israel people have the wrong idea about things."

For Hadas - who stayed with a family in Wimbledon - it was the first time she had really conversed with Jews beyond Israel and gained an insight into their lives.

It was what Efrat Varsano, a co-ordinator for Magic Moments in Israel, hailed as "a win-win situation. They bring the Israeli spirit to the British community and come back more Israeli and more Jewish. In Israel it's easy to forget you are part of a Jewish nation. These trips build a bridge between the two worlds."

The experience had a lasting effect on participants. "Afterwards they try to volunteer more and to do more for their community. It makes me proud."

Yuval Margalit, one of six Israelis here during a break from national service, spent the week with Manchester Jewish students getting "a taste of university life".

He said their joint Yom Hazikaron service was particularly effecting. "Some of them didn't know what the day meant, let alone had a connection," he said.

"I would normally be at my friend's grave, so it was hard being here but it was good to explain how personal it was for us."

It is clear that participants will return home with more than a few souvenirs and some extra Facebook friends. "We've got to keep the connection between Israel and the Jews in Britain," said Hadas, already planning for when her new friends visit. "Our lives are very different but also we have a lot in common."

    Last updated: 8:34am, May 13 2011