With the blink of an eye, my year-long Israeli journey has come to an end. For those of you who have trekked with me on TC Jewfolk, you know I’ve been on an incredible voyage of growth and discovery, both struggling through a language barrier and conquering my religious and cultural experiences to provide insight into Israeli society and suggest how we might transform our communities to reflect our Jewish values.
Now that it’s over, here are a few highlights from my travels:
Traveling in Israel During the Operation in Gaza
I arrived in Israel a year ago with USY Pilgrimage Israel Programs in the midst of the Israeli operation in Gaza. With 42 amazing high school students and five wonderful staff, we spent my first months in Israel learning about the country and Jewish history, all while avoiding the infamous sirens.
Fast-forward to August, after the program ended. I had a month left of free time in Israel and spent it to myself, exploring the nooks and crannies of the land. I visited friends and their families in Tel Aviv, Netanya and Haifa, experiencing their lives firsthand. During the ongoing operation, I felt the pain of Israeli parents yearning for their sons and daughters to come home safe. During Shabbat, I felt the happiness of a family greeting the end of a long, restless week.
I then spent one week volunteering on a vineyard, working the land and watching fruit blossom. Tisha B’av, the fasting day where we remember the sufferings and tragedies of the Jewish people, fell during my time on the vineyard. I felt a connection to the country as I tended to the vines on the very land we had lost thousands of years prior.
Studying in Yeshiva, Meeting the President and Movie Stars
My free time ended and, in September, I began my studies at the Conservative Yeshiva, a bastion of plurality in a black and white Jerusalem. From morning to night, I studied Torah, Talmud, Mishnah, Hasidut, halakhah, and t’fillah, shaping my Jewish practice and helping me develop an outlet for expressing my pride and passion for Judaism. I studied with Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal and Conservative Jews, attended shiurim, or study sessions, all over Jerusalem, and experienced all ways of worship, from secular to Ultra-Orthodox (which included midnight tishes, or celebrations).
December came, bringing the Masa Leadership Summit with it. I attended the conference with more than 100 other young Jewish Israel program participants, leading to my participation in a special fellowship with the Hartman Institute, a pluralistic organization focused on researching and educating on bettering the quality of life for Jews worldwide. Through Masa, I met former Prime Minister and President Shimon Peres, Natan Sharansky, and Michael Douglas, who received the Genesis Prize for his efforts in promoting a more inclusive approach to Judaism.
Feeling at Home, You Should Come, Too
In my first TC Jewfolk article, I lamented over my sub-par Hebrew skills. Now, a year later, I’m finally studying the language at Hebrew University. Five days a week, for four and a half hours each day, for the next eight weeks, I’ll be immersed in a Hebrew environment that will hopefully allow me to complete the one goal that I haven’t achieved this year: fluency.
At this point, you’re probably ready to pack your bags and fly off on your own Israel journey. Luckily, the Jewish community offers a myriad of options for all ages. If you’re a high school student, you can attend a study abroad program like Alexander Muss High School in Israel or USY Israel Pilgrimage, among others. If you’re graduating from high school, you can take a gap year with Nativ or Kivunim. If you’re between the ages of 18-30, you can take part in one of hundreds of Masa programs ranging from studying in Jerusalem at the Conservative Yeshiva for a semester or year, as I did, to volunteering to teach English in schools. You can also go on a birthright trip through the University of Minnesota Hillel or the Jewish Federations. If you’re looking for a shorter commitment, the Conservative Yeshiva and the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies offer 3-week to 9-month programs. All of them are great options, and will afford you an experience that will hopefully deepen your connection to Judaism, Israel, and the Jewish people.
We’ve finally reached the end of a life-changing year. Thank you, my dedicated readers, who’ve stuck with me on my journey, but enough is enough. Hop a plane and experience the Holy Land for yourselves!