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A Story of Diller Teen Fellow Connections


Dear Friends,

Below you will find an amazing story from Ellie Aronstam, current Philadelphia Diller Teen Fellow, about an encounter with Israeli Diller Fellows during her most recent family trip in South Africa. This story beautifully illustrates how this teen leadership program that we are so proud to host touches countless lives and fosters lifelong connections.

Shabbat Shalom,

My name Is Ellie and I am part of the Diller Philly Cohort. We are a year-long international leadership and Jewish Identity fellowship, and throughout the year we have been learning more about ourselves and our culture. So far, I have had an amazing experience getting closer to my fellow Dillers and learning more about myself. In the near future, all of the Philly fellows will be hosting Israeli exchange fellows from Herzliya and in turn, we will be staying with them over the summer. Honestly, I’ve been equally nervous about this as excited- considering I’ve never met or even talked to the person who will be staying with me. However, I had a chance encounter with Israeli Dillers that eased my mind and made me- if possible- even more excited for the experiences to come.

This past December, I was fortunate enough to take a trip to South Africa. This is a trip my family and I have been looking forward to for years. Closer to the end of our vacation, we stopped at a completely random and delicious café off the highway in Cape Town. Olympia Bakery was my tour guide’s favorite place for coffee and being coffee-obsessed, I insisted we stop. After my dad and I ordered we stood by the side and waited. And waited. As we waited, a group of Isreali people, a family, and one 20-something guy walked in. Around 10 minutes had passed by, and we were getting impatient. Just as we were about to ask about our coffees, the guy who was alone heard us talking, and in an american accent asked if we were from the states. Excited to find another American in a foreign country we exclaimed “Yes! We’re from Philly!” and asked him where he was from. He confessed he actually wasn’t from the US, but his parents were and he had taken a summer-long trip there. He told us he was first generation Isreali and my Dad happened to mention I was taking a trip there in the summer. That’s when Diller entered the conversation.

As soon as I mentioned the fellowship, the group of 4 younger Isreali people who were in the café perked up. “Diller”, one said. “I was part of the first ever Cohort for Diller! Our American partner was Brooklyn”. I mean… what are the chances?! Another Diller fellow from Isreal in South Africa? I couldn’t believe it. Then the girl next to her said, “I’m still in contact with my exchange person after 5 years”. I was buzzing with excitement. I talked to them for a bit, talking about my worries and excitements, completely in shock. One guy who was with them mentioned how jealous he was, because he never did Diller and regrets it immensely. I told them about my fears for the future Diller programs, including living with a stranger. Immediately, they laughed, remembering when they were me, scared out of their mind to meet their American partners. They talked about how normal it was to be scared and how amazing the experience was, and somehow these strangers had made me feel completely calm. In five minutes, I had connected with these random people, 10 years older than me, simply through our one connection. It was quite simply amazing. Then, our conversation was interrupted with my dad letting me know our coffee was ready. And with the rest of my family in the car, I knew I couldn’t stay and talk. I said my goodbyes and headed back to the car.

So much could’ve went differently. Maybe If I wasn’t a coffee addict, or if the service wasnt as slow, or if my tour guide’s favorite coffee shop was actually the one across the street, I would’ve never met those people. So much had to go right, and I couldn’t get over my chance-encounter. This experience wasn’t only cool, but it changed my veiw of the world. I was connected to people I had never met before. Diller makes me feel like i’m a part of something bigger than myself, and I’m so excited for the experiences to come. 

Ellie, Philadelphia Diller Teen Fellow