When I think back on this past week, the word that comes to mind is “first.” The first week of Group 5’s journey in Israel was full of firsts that the chanichim (campers) will remember for the rest of their lives. Some of the “first” highlights:
First intense hike in the Negev desert (or any desert for that matter): After being in the airport for way too long, the participants arrived in Tel Aviv, had a relaxing day, then we took off to the Negev Desert for a three day adventure that is unlike any one they have experienced before. It was their first time in the Negev, and, for many of them, their first intense hike early in the morning (4am wake-up!). This was also the first moment on the trip when every single teen was proud of him or herself for something, whether that be conquering a fear of heights or hiking a difficult trail. Although they were individually proud, they also presented an indescribable group pride and passion.
First time in Jerusalem and at the Western Wall: for many of our teenagers, it was their first time seeing Jerusalem. Their first steps in the Old City were actually difficult, as they walked hand-in-hand blindfolded to a lookout point where they saw a beautiful view of the city. As one participant told me, she was nearly teary-eyed as she gazed out into the remarkable Jerusalem, a site she and everyone else will remember forever. The Western Wall was incredible for all of Group 5. As a madricha, it was amazing to see the teenagers put much thought into their note, then stick it into the wall as they touched the ancient stones for the first time. Although they could not grab the wall, their hands pressed against the stone as if they never wanted to let go.
First time riding a camel: While this may seem like a silly first, it is still one that many of the participants look forward to doing. They shrieked as the camel crookedly stood up, the teens holding onto the saddle as tightly as possible. However, as soon as the camel started walking, the participants were at ease and overall enjoyed their camel adventure.
First time floating in the Dead Sea: As many of the participants told me, this day was their favorite. Floating in the Dead Sea is something we see pictures of and always wanted to do; pictures became realities when Group 5 slowly walked into the sea, lay on their backs, and gently float. Although their cuts and blisters stung in the salty water, they ignored this pain knowing that this could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
First time in Israel: While there were many firsts this past week, many more than listed above, the most exciting first was the first time in Israel. Even though a handful of participants are returning home to Israel, most are newcomers, looking to make a foreign place their new home. For many, this will be the first time they feel instantly connected to a place, even though it is unknown. No matter how much teenagers have read about Israel, studied it in school, or visited the country, this will be the first and only time they are together with this specific group, touring each place as they form life-long relationships. This is everyone’s first time in Israel with NFTY, a once in a lifetime first.
Group 5 is embarking on one of the most amazing journeys of their lives. This is a group of teenagers that came in as strangers and will leave as friends who experienced the most amazing “firsts” together. And I am incredibly proud and excited to be a part of their journey.
by Marisa Underberger
Group 5 Madricha and Rosh Kesher (Communications)