Mark Gurevych has experienced some long days and short nights during the past couple of weeks.
But he never let sleep deprivation get the best of him.
“There’s so many places to go and so many things to see,” said Mark, 15. “We’re in the car to go everywhere. We walk a lot at home, but here you need a car to go from point A to point B.”
Mark and four other Jewish teens from Chemnitz, Germany, arrived in Akron on July 25 as part of the first youth exchange between the sister cities.
During their visit, which ends Sunday, they had an opportunity to serve as camp counselors at Shaw Jewish Community Center’s day camp and to visit Niagara Falls, N.Y., the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Cleveland Aquarium, the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, Camp Wise (JCC residential camp) in Chardon, Cedar Point, the Ohio State Fair, Akron City Hall, Derby Downs, the University of Akron and the Akron Incubator/Accelerator.
“They are getting a chance to learn about the diversity of Jewish life in the world and to experience the American way of life,” said Ruth Rocher, a chaperone with the youth and chair of the Jewish community in Chemnitz. “They are actually living with [host] families and learning the difference between life in Germany and life in Akron, Ohio.”
The relationship between the two cities began more than 15 years ago. Its primary focus has been commercial, political, cultural and technological. It has included university collaborations, the sale of goods by German artisans, the sharing of ideas among zoos, museums, symphonies and safety service forces and the opening of a Chemnitz-based company that makes laboratory equipment in the Akron Global Business Accelerator.
The visiting youth represent the first social exchange between the two cities. Plans are being made for Jewish youth from Akron to visit Chemnitz next year.
“Our hope is that this will develop into a regular activity among youth in Akron and Chemnitz,” said Steve Kidder, who was instrumental in organizing the exchange. “We also hope that students from the schools in Chemnitz will compete in Akron’s Holocaust essay project in the future.”
Chemnitz is located in the state of Saxony, about 50 miles southwest of Dresden.
While in Akron, the Chemnitz teenagers stayed with host families who were responsible for getting them to the Shaw Jewish Community Center most mornings as early as 7 a.m. Their days were then planned to give them a chance to experience a slice of American life.
Esther Lermann, 16, was amazed by the large portions of food served at local restaurants. She described her visit as “the best trip I ever had. It was always a big dream of mine to come to America.”
Like the other three girls in the group, Esther noted that people are friendlier in the United States than in Germany.
“It’s really different,” said Sascha Bogatyryova, 17. “People are so friendly. You go into a shop and people always ask you how you are.”
Both Sascha and Valeria Futoryan, 18, enjoyed their shopping trip to Summit Mall. Their trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland was also among their favorite activities.
“I’m a real music fan. I like rock a lot,” Valeria said. “I was freaking out in almost every room. It was awesome knowing that the outfits we saw had been worn by some of the stars.”
Overall, the one trip that made the top three list of each teenager was the Cleveland Indians baseball game outing.
“The baseball game was really exciting. The people were so loud and energetic. We don’t have baseball in Germany, so it was a new experience,” said Regina Kaminetska, 17. “We’ve had a lot of fun and we’ve been really busy. We are really thankful for our host families because they took us in and became our families away from home.”