After two months of slurping through the straw of my three-liter Camelback backpack and walking around in my not-so-fashionable keens, I knew I was having the full Israel experience.
Surprisingly for an eighteen-year-old girl, I came home with a lot more then just a few T-shirts and Israeli jewelry…
I came home a new person.
Although I had previously been to Israel twice with my family and was absolutely in love with the land, there was something extremely special about going on an official Israel program.
I journeyed to the homeland this past summer on Ramah Israel Seminar, a trip made up of teens that were born in Israel, teens that had been there, and teens that had never been to Israel before. With people from many different regions of the country, we were able to share in our different backgrounds and explore our promised land together.
Walking a mile up the road from my base to the grocery store and little falafel stand, it’s amazing that by taking just a few steps I became so immersed in Israeli culture. Even though I looked like a complete tourist with a Hanes white v-neck t-shirt, Nike shorts, again, my not-so-fashionable keens, and a hat, I never actually felt like a tourist.
But how could this be?
I waddled up and down the streets of Jerusalem, looking like your average American Jewish teen, but never actually felt like one. It’s as if the moment my passport was stamped I suddenly became a citizen (and wouldn’t that be great?).
What was weirder was that I wasn’t able to feel this way until I had come on this program with other Jewish teens. It was Israel’s beauty, spirituality, and love that allowed me to feel at peace in a land struggling to find peace.
Like Israel, aren’t we all struggling to find some sort of peace?
Whether it’s work, school, taking care of children, meeting deadlines, balancing time, etc. It was liberating to know that there was a place for me even if it was thousands of miles away, to be exactly who I was, without a care in the world.
But I was eager to find the answer. How I could possibly feel so at home, so far away from Byerlys challah?
Little did I know was the hardship I was going to have to endure to find my answer.
I attempted to take on the mysteriousness of the Negev for four days, when I went on dessert survival. Which consisted of hiking, hiking, and more hiking. Did I mention hiking? Or maybe I should mention that we were only allowed one change of clothes, our toothbrush, 3-liters of water in our Camelbacks, and yep that was just about it.
See, for some this was the experience of a lifetime, for me, it was a chance to encounter my biggest fear, snakes. But the gorgeous scenery of the Negev kept me going….for about 4 hours.
The sun went down, and so did my ability to face my fears. I suffered from an anxiety attack, where I was then taken to the hospital in Be’er Sheba, where I was given medication. Waking up in a cab on my way back to Jerusalem, I remember crying because I was so confused, I was in shock, I was tired, and for a moment I was just scared.
I pressed my head against the glass, I opened my eyes, and looked out to see the gold Jerusalem stone of the old city glistening in the moonlight. My fears immediately escaped, and again, I felt at home.
I had found my answer. Without my mom or dad to hold my hand, or to lead me in the right direction, I was brought to peace when realizing where I was. I was home, the place in which my ancestors resided 3,000 years ago. The place in which I have prayed to since the minute I learned to read Hebrew, and the place in which my faith is the culture.
Israel had become my strength, my spiritual abode, and a place that provided me the ability to feel a sense of peace that is not achievable in Minnetonka.
My Jewish identity, my morals and values, and my love for the land all made sense when I returned home. It was no longer just going to Talmud Torah to maintain my Jewish education or attending synagogue to pray and teach students. Everything suddenly had more meaning than before.
With the options of Birthright Israel, synagogue missions, Alexander Muss High School in Israel, BBYO, NIFTY, USY, NCSY, etc, there are hundreds of programs that allow people to experience Israel no matter what age.
After spending a significant amount of time there I feel it is my obligation to tell people my story and excite them about what an Israel experience could mean to them.
Which is why I was selected to be involved in the MZ teen program, where I am an intern to help raise Israel awareness and to be an advocate. The MZ teen program is national leadership program for 36 teens that recently returned from Israel. Within my involvement in the MZ teen program, I share my personal story to my peers, and community to help be a strong voice for Israel and the Jewish people.
Truthfully, I could tell stories, show pictures, and try and make people understand what it’s like, but it’s truly unexplainable. To me, there are no perfect words to express, describe, and show what it is like to be in Israel.
Each person has a different experience and a different perspective.
Maybe yours will be less dorky, minus the keens and Camelback.
In any case, it’s worth making the effort to visit. Israel is more than just an average destination. It’s our home.