by The Students of NFTY-EIE Fall 2012
We can remember flying all the way from our home states to New York, and from there to Israel. We can remember this spectacular sight as we looked out the window right as the plane was coming into Israel after flying over the ocean for such as long time. We saw waves breaking over the shores of Tel Aviv, and we could feel our hearts skip a beat. Many of us had never been to Israel before, so this made the experience all the more special.
The first time we went to Jewish History class, our teacher, Oshrit, challenged us to answer the question “What does being Jewish mean?” Naturally, most people said that Judaism was a religion, and that a good Jew goes to services, studies Torah, and practices the holidays. However, during the course of this program, we have come to realize that it is so much more than that.
We all had to take foreign language at our home high schools, and many of us ultimately forgot it all because we weren’t passionate about it. Hebrew on the other hand is different. We have a connection to it. We sing it during services in the form of prayers. Now we are not just reading it, but we learning it, understanding it, and even speaking it.
Not only are we leaving Israel with a better understanding of Judaism and Hebrew, but lifelong friends. Through these four months we have laughed together, prayed together, cried together, and went through a variety of challenges. We experienced a 5 days hike from the Sea of Galilee to the Mediterranean, went on a trip to Poland, and had a 5 day IDF experience. During these trips we learned how to work together in order to overcome our fears.
Our time on Kibbutz Tzuba has also been incredible. When on the Kibbutz during Shabbat, different groups of us decided to lead services a few times. The most exciting and honorable moment we felt on this trip was when we led services for Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the URJ.
Being on EIE has made us feel much more connected to Israel and the Jewish people. Some of us have never lived in a city with a large Jewish population. Living in a country that is mostly Jewish is something new and exciting, as well as an incredible experience. Nowhere else can we say “Shabbat Shalom” and “Chag Sameach” to all of our school teachers, as well as salespeople at the mall and taxi drivers. Spending four months in Israel really shaped the experience for us. We feel so proud when we recognize landmarks, street names, and storefronts in Jerusalem. We don’t feel at all like tourists.
The things that we have learned here, in this land that we are so connected to, now even more than before, have helped us grow. We have discovered things about ourselves that were always there but we had never seen. The experience has enriched our lives more than we are really capable of putting into words.