By Arielle B., NFTY-EIE Spring 2013 Student
I think I finally understand how and why EIE is most often described as life changing. This past weekend has been one of the most spiritual, moving, and thought provoking 3 days I’ve had in a wildly long time.
After taking advantage of our day of rest for a few hours, we all put ourselves together in our finest waterproof Shabbat outfits and made our way to the Belmont for t’fillah. We were lead by an EIE alum from 2003 and we knew from the moment we met him that he was one of us. His jew fro and hiking boots spoke for themselves. When we all began praying, all I could think of was how incredible it was that each of us come from somewhere different. We all have our own favorite melodies and we all have our own favorite Shabbat traditions. But when Mike, our song leader for the day, chose a melody that we all knew, it was clear that we all came to Israel for the same reason. That was the connection I have been waiting to feel since I arrived in Ben Gurion Airport and it was substantially more powerful than I had anticipated.
The next day, for me in particular, was definitely more somber. We met for t’fillah and I could already feel my emotions getting ready to burst. It was the birthday of my sister Danielle. She passed away when she was 11, and I haven’t ever been away from home for either her birthday or the anniversary of her death. As I sat through the first few prayers of the service, I was able to keep myself distracted and sing along, but when my favorite prayer, Sim Shalom, began, I felt something come over me. I felt a connection to everyone in the room. I felt a connection to God. I felt a connection to Danielle. I rushed into the bathroom so I could let myself let it out, and sat on the balcony of the Belmont overlooking the Judean Hills. As I was sitting there, my Aunt Bella called me. (She lives in Zichron-Yaakov.) I told her how I was feeling and she assured me that being in Israel for this day was actually really important and special. I knew she was right. I felt Danielle all around me in a way in which I had never experienced.
Later that night when we went to the Western Wall, I wrote a note for Danielle and placed it between the cracks of the stone. I hugged the wall and put my face against the stone and I felt like I could physically feel thousands of years of history. Not just of the Kotel, but of Israel and the Jewish people as a whole.
We got back on the bus and made our way to the HUC campus in Jerusalem and were excitedly welcomed to the Debbie Friedman memorial service. It was something we were all very much looking forward to. Debbie has had such an impact on all our lives as URJ and NFTY goers so we knew how special it was to have the chance to formally honor her. She is the person who changed judaism for me. Without her melodies, I don’t think I would have been able to love my religion as much as I do now. When the song leaders asked for volunteers to lead havdalah, my hand shot up. I went up to the front with two of my closest friends, Izzi and Dana, and we helped with the candles, the wine, and the spices. When the prayers were done, I let out my candle in the cup of wine and, according to my fellow Eisnerites, the sizzle was one of the best they have heard. It was very cool to have the opportunity to share our traditions with one another and feel Debbie’s spirit as well as my sister’s.