St. Louis teen: Israel journey deepened her connection to Judaism

ELLEN FUTTERMAN, Editor-in-Chief

Chances are, if your parent is a rabbi you will have visited Israel at least once before age 16. Lila Goldstein, whose mother is Rabbi Andrea Goldstein of Congregation Shaare Emeth, had been to Israel twice (once when she was 5, and once in middle school) before her trip this summer through NIFTY and URJ’s Goldman Union Camp Institute (GUCI). Of course, going to Israel with your peer group is bound to be very different than traveling with your parents, siblings and other members of your temple.

“What I thought was really special about this trip was that I knew half the people from summer camp, but the other half had been (to camp) at different sessions, so it was fun to be with old friends but also make new ones,” said Lila, who is a junior at Ladue Horton Watkins High School. “Even though we weren’t at camp, we still had that sense of community and connection. The trip had that feeling you get from being at camp and feeling so close to one another.”

Lila was one of several young people from St. Louis who agreed to chronicle her Israel trip by shooting a short video of the sights, sounds, people and places that most impacted her. This Israel video project was made possible by a generous grant from the Kranzberg Family Foundation.

Her trip lasted roughly four weeks. During the last week, a group of Israeli teens joined Lila’s group for several days. “We even got to go to their houses and meet their families,” she said.

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Lila said what resonated the most for her was how much more connected she felt to Judaism.

“It was a lot stronger because I was in Israel and because of who I was with,” she said. “Yes, I am Jewish, and my mom is a rabbi — I have this identity, but I don’t think I truly had the connection and understanding of how much it means to me and how much it helps me until this summer.”

Lila said her favorite activity was seeing the sun rise at Masada.

“It was gorgeous. It was stunning to see and look at,” she said. “It was like one of those moments when nothing else mattered. It was just us and this gorgeous sunrise. It was a beautiful view and I didn’t have to worry about anything else. I could just be.”

Unfortunately, because of road closures due to a visiting dignitary or dignitaries — Lila thinks it was President Joe Biden — she and the rest of her group were not able to visit Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center.

“That was upsetting and a little sad because it’s such an important thing to learn about and experience,” she said, adding that she had been there on a previous trip when she was in middle school.

Mostly though, she had no complaints, saying she will remember this trip happily for the rest of her life.

“There were so many occasions of just having a lot of fun,” she said. “We joked around a lot. We bought some random stuff as a group and made it like our mascot. We bought this lobster floatie to take to the Sea of Galilee. We also came to learn there is almost no ice in Israel, so we decided to invest in a giant bag of ice and a cooler. We thought it would last us a week, but it lasted like two days. But a kid (from the trip) still has that cooler to this day.”