Seven meaningful weeks in Israel before COVID cut semester short

Halle Wasserman (left) and Sari Weinroth in Israel. 

By Halle Wasserman, Junior, Whitfield School

On Jan. 25, I set out to go to Israel for four months on Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim (TRY), a conservative program that invites 10th to 12th graders living in the United States and Canada to travel to Israel for either a quarter semester or full semester. I had been looking forward to this for months; it was an opportunity to not only experience a tourist’s view of Israel, but to get to know the country on a deeper level. Rather than be a visitor for a few weeks, I would be immersed in day-to-day life. 

I traveled from St. Louis to JFK Airport in New York, where I met up with the other 60 kids from across the country. Going in to the program knowing only one person was nerve racking, however, the group soon clicked over the excitement we shared for the life-changing experience we were about to embark on. Little did I know, these strangers would eventually become my best friends, many of whom I still stay in close contact with during the pandemic. 

The day of travel passed quickly and eventually the group, along with four madrichim, or counselors, finally stepped foot in the country. Despite us knowing each other for less than 12 hours, coming together and arriving in Israel was an indescribable experience. From that moment on, I knew I would be bonded to this group for life.

While I had a rigid school schedule of classes from Sunday to Monday spanning from 8 in the morning to 6:45 at night, I was still able to spend time with my friends in the evening, truly making it the best of both worlds. Even better, every Tuesday and Thursday, we would travel from our home base in Jerusalem and learn about various places across Israel such as the Western Wall, Masada and Tel Aviv.

At each site we visited, we learned about the historical context and its importance in Jewish history. Every trip, my knowledge of the country and the people grew. Personally, my favorite two trips that were to Masada and Kibbutz Ketura. 

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At Masada, the group woke up at 4 in the morning to hike the mountain and watch the sunrise. While hiking, we had t’filla (prayer) and when we reached the top, we discussed the Jewish history and significance of the place. 

In addition to Masada, we traveled to Kibbutz Ketura for five days in the southern part of Israel. There, we learned what it was like to live in a kibbutz, all while traveling to Eilat, snorkeling, biking along the Jordan border, hiking, and so many more enriching experiences. At each destination, I knew that I would never forget the meaningful impact that it would have on me.

Unfortunately, in the middle of March, TRY was unexpectedly canceled due to COVID-19. We were lucky enough to continue our schooling through TRY in our respective cities, but we missed out on so much like seeing the northern parts of Israel and traveling to Poland. 

Although we had spent only seven weeks together in Israel, the bonds that we created were unbreakable. As devastating as it was for COVID-19 to cancel my semester, I would not have changed it for the world. If one is able at a time more suitable for travel, I could not more highly recommend going to Israel for a semester abroad. I am forever grateful for the experiences I had, the people I met, and the memories I made.