Five months ago I took a leap of faith, left my home of 20 years and flew across the world to live in Israel. I left Minnesota with high expectations, extremely nervous, and even a bit lost. I truly had no idea where this semester would take me.
I spent the past semester at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with the Nachshon Project. The Nachshon Project is a program that provides an opportunity for college juniors to explore Jewish life and careers in the Jewish community, including camp — which will be helpful for my summer at Herzl Camp.
I spent the semester learning from innovators and leaders all around the country — innovators in fields like the high-tech industry, innovators in the religious sphere, as well as innovators in the political sphere. I even had the opportunity to meet Shimon Peres, one of the founding leaders of the State of Israel. To say I was immensely impacted by this experience would be an understatement.
I learned a vast history of our land and our connection to it– culturally and politically.
I learned about the relationship between Israel and North American Jewry and have come to understand that neither can survive without the other.
I learned what sacrifice is when I met young adults who came from all corners of the world to protect a country they’ve only lived in a couple of months, but whose people they’ve known for a few centuries.
I learned what true fear is, but I also learned what it means to take that fear and turn it into bravery.
I learned that I believe peace is possible when I witnessed a young Israeli Jew gaze into the eyes of his girlfriend, a Palestinian, and truly understand what love is.
When I landed at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport two weeks ago, my family and friends got back a different Sophie then they dropped off at that same place back in January. I’m coming back from Israel stronger, braver, more confident, more cultured and more passionate. The experience I’ve had in Israel with the Nachshon Project is one that feels impossible to put into words on a page.
In a couple of days, campers and staff will begin arriving at Herzl Camp — the place I spend my summers. But these campers and staff haven’t had these same experiences — they haven’t seen the things I’ve seen, or met the people I’ve met. While they might have a hard time relating to my time in Israel, or understanding the passion I feel for Israel, in a way, that is a part of the Nachshon Project. Unfortunately not every young Jew has the opportunity to do a program like the Nachshon Project, and therefore it’s my duty to share my experience with them.
At first I was overwhelmed with the idea of trying to create change through the telling of my experiences in Israel. I now understand that I simply need to do just that — tell my story. It’s these stories, these narratives, these inspirations that keep the Jewry of North America connected with Israel — these stories that keep the Jewish people alive. I can’t wait to tell my Israel story.
Sophie Stillman will be a senior at the University of Minnesota and is spending her summer as a program director at Herzl Camp.