Originally posted on the Israel Programs Blog
By Liza Tumen, NFTY-EIE High School in Israel student (Fall 2011)
Before coming to Israel, everyone I spoke to gave the same warning, “Why are you going to Israel now?” or “You chose a very interesting time to go,” (and by interesting, they meant awful). But with two months down, our group has come to quite a different consensus: we chose the best time.
One of the main goals of coming to Israel with NFTY-EIE is to learn Jewish history and culture. 34 other students and I are not only learning about history, but experiencing it being made.
Gilad Shalit was taken captive almost five and a half years ago by Hamas militants. He was held hostage in an unknown location where he never saw the light of day. As time passed, a connection formed between Gilad and the people of Israel. He became everyone’s brother and everyone’s son and we all prayed for his freedom.
Here at NFTY-EIE, the students become a family as well. As we endure many hardships, lending a shoulder for a friend to cry on and laughing at each other’s jokes, a special bond is formed between us.
On October 11 while enjoying each other’s company, the news came on TV: “A deal has been made to free Gilad Shalit.” Our jaws dropped and our eyes opened wide at the sensational broadcast.
For the next week we discussed the news as a whole and became informed on the issue. Finally, a definite date was announced for Gilad to be released and we all shook in our shoes with the realization that we would be in Israel during this momentous time in Jewish history.
But like I said, we had chosen the best time to come, and would soon find ourselves with an even greater experience.
On October 14, we left the comfort of our home at Kibbutz Tzuba and embarked on a 6-day hike from the Kinneret to the Mediteranean, called Yam El Yam (Sea to Sea). The second to last day was one of the hardest and as we finally reached a mountaintop, dripping with sweat, a feeling of accomplishment reigned over us all.
Sitting on the lookout spot, our breath was taken away by the beautiful view: castle ruins, rolling hills, and a small town on the top of a nearby mountain. Coincidentally, this town was Gilad Shalit’s home, and our breath was taken away even more with the news that he was to land in his town, that day at 4:30. We looked down at our watches: 4:25.
Within minutes a distant humming caught our attention and two army helicopters flew in over our heads. The only words I heard from our group were “I can’t believe this is happening. I can’t believe we are actually watching this happen.”
The helicopter lowered and finally landed in Gilad’s hometown. At that moment something came over Israel. Uncountable people flocked to watch as their brother and their son took his first steps back in his homeland. There was a sense of accomplishment, a sense of pride and a sense of togetherness. And we were there. Some of us teared up and some of us smiled, but then and there after five days of working together in the wilderness, our group felt a sense of togetherness as well. The serendipity of the moment was unbelievable.
With front row seats to a historical moment, our group is genuinely getting an Israeli experience. With this moving and unforgettable moment, we are not only learning Jewish history but truly taking part in it. Our four months here have been shaped by real experiences, which at one time would have seemed utterly distant. This event will forever be a focus of our trip to Israel and highlight not only the ongoing learning, but also participation of our history.