A Leap of Faith and Counting Stars (Part 2)

Last week, I wrote about the first part of my family’s experience of being involved in a student exchange program. Witnessing a 15 year old young man coming into an unknown culture reminded me of how courageous we can be, and how amazing the spirit of our children is. For Gilad, and then for my daughter, to fly literally across the world to live with people they have never met, where the language is not their own, and where they have no one but themselves to fall back on, is an incredible act of guts and strength. Although my daughter knew Gilad when she left for Israel, she only knew a handful of words in Hebrew. To top it all off, she was raised in the Catholic religion and therefore lacked much knowledge of the Israeli religious or cultural background. As with Gilad six months before, I was awed by her “chutzpah” in making this journey.

There are so many experiences that I’d love to share from her two and a half months in Israel. The culture of community and connection between the people of Israel was far deeper and more authentic than anything she had experienced in the United States. For the most part, she has been fortunate enough to have been in a small school environment from a very young age, and for most of her life has had very tight neighborhood bonds. But in Israel, she was able to experience a different type of community with the children and the adults, where there was a profound respectfulness shown to each other. Honoring the connection between young and old was easier and more fluid than what she had experienced so far in her life here. By being honored for who she was, she developed a greater confidence in herself and learned exactly what she wanted and deserved in her relationships. 

Her host family consisted of two working parents and their three children. They are a busy family, and yet there always seemed to be enough time to support and guide the children in their schoolwork and other interests. The children learn self-sufficiency at an early age, but as a means of empowerment, not as a necessity or from neglect by their parents. 

Her host father also happened to be her teacher at school. Because of the dual role he had in her life, she was able to connect with him on a daily basis for a good amount of time. 

Over the course of the next two and a half months, my daughter developed a relationship with her host father that nourished her soul in a way it had not been nourished in a long time. I had forgotten how important a relationship between fathers and daughters is in the development of a girl. Watching my boys find their way without the affirmation of a father on a daily basis, I had lost touch with the feminine side of me that needed my father’s love and attention when I was growing up.

There seems to be so much attention put upon mothers in our society today when it comes to parenting issues. And yet, in my experience, there is no substitute for the presence of a father in our children’s lives. A mother cannot duplicate that role no matter how hard she tries.

The way a father shows up for his daughter(s) shows her what to demand of a man in a relationship. If her father treats her with disdain, disinterest, or abuse, that is what she will come to see as normal and accept into her life as she grows older. BUT, if he treats her with honor and respect, she will instead come to expect that from her future relationships.

My daughter came home from Israel with a sense of self and worthiness that I had not seen in her since she was in early elementary school. The self-esteem she exuded was palpable long before she got home. Her host father gave her the attention, honor, and respect from a father-figure that she had been so sorely missing for many years. She now has a clearer example in her head of who she is and not just what she will accept, but what she should expect in relationship.

As Father’s Day approaches this weekend in the United States, I cannot say thank you enough to our new Israeli family, but most especially to her host father, Avi, for the love and tenderness he showed towards Megan. I believe it does take a village to raise a child. Ours just happens to be a global one now!


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