Ever since I started going to camp at URJ Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute in 2006, I had dreamed of going to Israel. When I signed up for a URJ Kesher Birthright trip this past fall, I was not expecting the very wide range of Jewish education from the participants on the trip. There were participants who had not become b’nei mitzvah, those who did not stay active in Jewish life in high school and college, those who had gone to a URJ camp or participated in NFTY, and some who even became b’nei mitzvah on the trip. As I started to meet the people at the beginning of the trip and became familiar with the other participants’ Judaic backgrounds, I quickly appreciated what I had learned at camp and in NFTY.
Three aspects of Judaism that OSRUI emphasizes are ivrit (Hebrew), t’filah (prayer), and limmud (learning). As a camper, I did not quite understand why the counselors tried to speak nearly every camp-related noun only in Hebrew. However, knowing the jumbled mixes of Hebrew and English that would be spoken to me for four weeks a year paid off. As soon as I got to Israel, I was using words and phrases like “ken” (yes) and “lo” (no), and “eifo ha sherutim?” (where is the bathroom) without even thinking about it.
Because music is a huge component of camp and NFTY, the melodies, songs, and prayers at Shabbat services were familiar to me. I, along with others on the trip, was able to help our staff member (and songleader) plan the services. On Shabbat, we had a discussion led by our staff members, where we shared opinions on the Central Conference of American Rabbis‘ most recent Pittsburgh Platform. This was very much like the programming I did at Kutz Camp and in NFTY, so I was really enthusiastic about the conversations the activity enabled us to have.
While these experiences in camp and NFTY helped me, I obviously still learned a lot in Israel. It was very inspiring me for me to see the other participants’ connections to Judaism grow throughout the trip, and have meaningful conversations about Jewish identity in order to better know and understand one another. One thing that stood out for me was our last night together, when everyone knew the words to the bedtime shema and hashkivenu during siyyum (closing session).
I encourage all NFTY seniors and Reform Jewish college students who have not yet been to Israel to go on Kesher Birthright!