Today is February 22, 2018 -
By Rabbi Steven Abraham
In late December I had the honor of heading to Israel with 35 of our Jewish community’s high school juniors and
seniors. For most of these teens it was their first time traveling abroad, let alone to the Jewish State. Traveling with them, living vicariously through their excitement and anxiousness was empowering. Over the course of 10 days our group traveled the length and breadth of the State of Israel, and while all of our time was well spent, a few moments stand out.
After arriving, the group headed north and was hosted in the Western Galilee for three nights by our Federation partner community. While the entirety of the trip was important and meaningful, the ability for our students to be hosted by Israeli families cannot be underestimated.
To spend even a few days living with an Israeli family gave our students incredible insight into both the beauty of Israel and the struggles of living in the Jewish State. I give our students a great deal of credit for stepping out of their comfort zone to spend a few days with complete strangers who would eventually become close friends.
The group left the Western Galilee and traveled south to Jerusalem. Once in Jerusalem, we made several visits to places that were pregnant with meaning, and the level of deference and respect showed by our teens was incredible. For some to have their first experience of standing at the Kotel (Western Wall) drowned out by pouring rain would have been disastrous, but our teens found meaning in knowing that for so many, we pray for rain on a daily basis. It was powerful watching them standing in the rain, trying to appreciate the enormity that is the Kotel, the center of the Jewish
world. While in Jerusalem we also visited Yad VaShem, where our students were somber and yet hopeful as they toured with an expert guide, learning about the history of the Shoah and the hope that came from the founding of the State of Israel.
Our last major stop was a Bedouin village in central Israel near Arad. While the accommodations were far from roughing it, our students got to appreciate for a second time the openness and the inclusivity that exists within the State of Israel. Only a week earlier the group toured a Druze village, and now they were learning about the Bedouins. It was important for our students to see that while Israel is the Jewish State, its inhabitants are not all Jewish, and it’s equally important to hear their stories.
The trip, in my mind, was a success – but the real test is to talk to the students and hear their thoughts. One last point is that our teens made our community proud while abroad. They were always respectful of the people and the places we were visiting, and more than once guides commented, knowing full well that these were teens from the Midwest. They made us proud and I have no doubt they will continue to do so into the future.