Our week in the desert was full of sweat, laughter, tears, conquering fears, bonding, some more sweat, and lots of memories. From throwing our burdens over a cliff to hiking up Mount Shlomo before 8:45 in the morning to snorkeling in the Red Sea to Ma’amad, this is an experience I wouldn’t change for the world.
Since entering Israel, I have felt as if I have been walking through the pictures I’ve seen my entire life. This stayed true all through the desert.
A lot of us knew each other before coming on this journey. At least that’s what we thought. The desert, it was different from what a lot of us expected – especially for me. What I expected was sand for miles and miles, some cacti, and of course lots of stars. Granted there were the sand dunes on the last day, but there were lots of rocks, the unimaginable sunrises and sunsets, and lots of emotions. During these 4 inspiring, emotional, and intense days, our fears were shown, strengths came through, and friendships were made stronger.
On the first day, after we set up camp, we all picked up a rock (or several rocks) that represented a quality about themselves that they don’t like, or a burden that they’ve been holding onto. Then we hiked up a smaller mountain to watch the sunset. While watching the sunset and taking in the view we all threw our rocks representing our burdens and “flaws” over the cliff. This was a first step to a fresh start for us and our community. Then, for me, something very special happened during Ma’amad(evening prayer circle) that night, I shared a song I wrote, and for the first time, I shared it with a group. It was an amazing feeling to have my peers, the people I grew up with at camp and in NFTY, singing along and supporting me. This is really a great representation of how our community works – supporting, loving, and caring.
The next day something extraordinary happened during one of our hikes. We shared a moment of silence – complete silence – nothing but the sound of the wind. For a lot of us, if not all of us, this was something no one had had before. We all took this moment to think about our lives, our week before in Europe, and just – everything. This was such a powerful time for all of us. Our guide, Tom, told us that this was because in our everyday life we always have the background noises of cars, sirens, the radio, and music. When we are put into that “awkward” moment of silence we distract ourselves with getting on our smartphones or putting headphones in.
Dan Nichols has a song called “Redemption”. The beginning goes like this, “Wandering in the desert, so easy to feel alone, we all need to know redemption, from a hand stronger than our own.” This song came to mind a lot while I was hiking all around the Negev. Especially during this silence and when we continued to hike in silence all together. This is because the desert is huge – bigger than anything I’ve ever seen or experienced before. During this silence, looking around and thinking, with nothing but your thoughts going on around you, you feel – alone. Something I thought about a lot was about our history, the 40 years our ancestors wandered in the desert not knowing when they would find the “Promised Land.” I couldn’t stop my mind from thinking about how they continued to push through all those years without knowing when “Redemption” would come.
The following day we got up really early to climb up Mount Shlomo. In my opinion, this was the most intense day in the Negav,both physically and emotionally. As we started out on this adventure, we were all talking with a few friends – but as we got higher and the climb got harder, you saw hands reaching out to help you with words of encouragement like, “you can do it” or “I got you” or “only 10 more steps”. As we got higher, the climb got tougher; these became the only words coming out of peoples’ mouths. Once we finally got to the top, after we took pictures, we truly brought NFTY to Israel. How? Well, from 9,000ft on top of Mt. Shlomo, after 3 hours of climbing and encouragement and support to get there, with our voices echoing off the mountains, we sang Shecheyanu followed by singing the NFTY cheer at the top of our lungs. You could feel the happiness of all 33 teenagers in my group singing joyful, joyful songs. Our community became a family that day.
After snorkeling with the fish in the Red Sea, we walked up a rocky hill to then turn the corner to see beautiful, shimmering sand dunes. We then learned about some of the history of where we were, we spent about 2 hours rolling down, jumping around the sand dunes while getting sand everywhere imaginable. Then after we made our finally sand angels, took our last pictures and videos, we gathered around in a circle and all shared our most memorable moments from the past 3 days and why we thought we came to the desert. Everyone had a different answer for this question. Some said it was for the bonding, some said to see what it looked like, and then a few said that were spending 4 days in the desert “wandering” around to experience a bit of what our ancestors did.
To end our desert experience, we made a campfire. As we gathered around singing songs from our different camps into Hashkivenu and Sh’ma, everyone was smiling with their arms around each other. You could tell that everyone was closer than before we started, everyone felt accomplished, and proud – proud of themselves and their friends.
At the beginning our trip, back in Prague, they told us that this trip was going to be intense, both mentally and physically. Then once we got to Israel, our unit supervisor, Yotam, told us that Israel has a different beat. They told us that the desert was going to push us to all our limits. This all stayed true during these four days. But we came out stronger(in both ways), closer, and – at least for me – with a better understanding of where I come from.
by Rose Snitz
Participant, Group 3a