Travel Web site makes Jew-to-Jew connections
By Cara Hogan Advocate Staff
If you’re traveling soon – whether to Israel, South America or Europe – a new Web site, Jewgether.org, can help you connect to locals. The concept is similar to Couchsurfing. com, where world travelers connect with each other online and offer to let guests stay in their homes free of charge. But with Jewgether.org, all of the participants are Jewish.
“Jewgethering, we call it, is happening on a daily basis,” said Boaz Albaranes, the co-founder of Jewgether.org. “We aim to strengthen the relationships with Jews around the world.”
Originally from Israel, Albaranes, 27, now lives in Boston and works for the Consulate General of Israel. He created the Web site through a fellowship with the Israeli advocacy group Stand With Us and has continued to work on it in his free time, hoping to make it a useful tool for Jews worldwide. “What better way to experience the world than by meeting locals with a shared background?” reads the Web site.
Some 700 people from 32 countries have connected through the free site, which went up eight months ago. Members must be approved to join and agree to both host and be hosted. A search engine matches people according to criteria such as kosher level and location. Members can also chat live to each other.
“If I want to go somewhere, I can read a review to see if people had a good or bad experience,” said Albaranes. “The system is so people know who is a nice host. Right now all the reviews are very positive, but we want negative reviews too.”
Jewgether is for all ages, but is targeting adults from 18 to 35, many of whom may have had a great experience traveling through Birthright or other programs. But Albaranes said the Web site shouldn’t be compared with all-Jewish social networking sites, like JewGlue.com, or dating sites, like JDate.
“The base of the Web site is hospitality,” said Albaranes. “People are registered not just to show pictures and write statuses, but to actually invite people to their homes.”
He said it is not as focused on religious observance like SeeYouOnShabbos.com, which connects religious Jews for Sabbath dinner.
“On our Web site, it doesn’t matter what kind of Jew you are,” said Albaranes. “You can see people who are kosher or not, Shomer Shabbos or not. Our advantage is we’re not just for Shabbat, we’re for travel also. Our audience is all Jews, Orthodox or not.”
Albaranes has used the service himself, staying with a Jewish family in Guatemala while studying Spanish. “The family in Guatemala is nothing like Jews I knew in Israel or the US,” said Albaranes. “They converted to Judaism because they were so amazed by the culture and religion. It’s not as easy to be Jewish there. They need to import food from Mexico because there is no kosher food in Guatemala City. They send their kids to Jewish summer camp in the US even though it’s very expensive.”
Eric Bloch, a 24-year-old French engineer, used Jewgether.org when he had a three-month internship with a biomedical company in Israel.
“I just came to Haifa and I was looking for friends,” said Bloch. “I contacted Tamir [his host], and within 20 hours, he had answered all my questions and invited me to a great party. When I need help, he’s still here to help me and advise me where to go in Haifa. He introduced me to all his friends and did everything so I felt comfortable.”
Nicolas Soussana – who has traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and South America – said he feels more comfortable staying in a Jewish home. Soussana, a citizen of both France and Israel, has found hosts in both nations through Jewgether.org.
“I felt a close connection with the people who hosted me,” said Soussana, who now lives in Chile. “In couch surfing, you never know where you will be, but when you know the person in front of you is Jewish, the link is almost natural.”
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