Experiencing Israel—a journey to be continued

By Samantha Weil

Before leaving for Israel, I didn’t fully understand the deep connection and love people have for it. I had learned a lot about Israel throughout my Jewish education, but I never felt a personal connection with the country or its people.

Although I was searching for this special connection when I traveled there last summer, I never fully acquire one. What I did come to realize, however, is that people who deeply love Israel have spent years nurturing their relationship with our Jewish Homeland. After just four weeks of being there, I have begun to build and develop my own relationship with this vibrant and unique country. To further strengthen my new bond with Israel, I realize I will need to make multiple trips there and participate in Israel programs at home.

As a result of my first trip, I now have the ability and desire to advocate for the importance of the existence a Jewish State.

One of the best decisions I made prior to the trip was choosing a program that allowed me to first spend a week in Poland. That week was one of the most intense, amazing and life-changing weeks of my life as I visited concentration and death camps, which took a difficult emotional toll.

Today, there are few Holocaust survivors left and in 20 years there probably will be almost none. It is extremely important that we see these horrifying sights firsthand so that no one can deny the Holocaust’s existence. It important that we understand the atrocities our ancestors went through and that we remember the Holocaust. After traveling throughout the country, however, I yearned to leave Poland for the comforts of our Jewish Homeland.

For me, arriving in Israel was not love at first sight. I did not love every part of every day in Israel, but the experiences I had in Israel gave me a well-rounded knowledge base that I can build upon in the future.

We participated in such a wide variety of activities in Israel, that there was really something special for each person. We saw much of the land, learned so much history and about the dilemmas Israel faces and experienced its immense and varied culture.

While walking around the streets of Jerusalem inside and out of the Old City, I saw great diversity. People of all religions and of all ages value Jerusalem as the city holds so many holy landmarks. Jerusalem is one of the only places in the world where on Shabbat a car on the roads is odd. While one could potentially go to Israel and only visit Jerusalem and still get a feel for Israel, the country is so diverse in its different areas that it would not give one a full perspective of Israel.

Tsfat had a whole different feel to it and yet it was just as exciting as Jerusalem. Tsfat is full of people who ooze with personality, whether that person is a Yemenite restaurant owner, a Kabbalistic artist, a glass blower, or a cheese maker.

I had the opportunity to do community service in Tsfat and it was such as a rewarding experience. Not only was I really able to help Israelis who are less fortunate, but I was also able to get to know the Tsfat community more in depth.

Traveling to the Negev took me out of my comfort zone, and the experience pushed me to do activities I would normally not do and ended up creating some of my fondest memories of my trip. In the Negev, we not only learned about history, but we also climbed Masada, swam in the Dead Sea, rode camels, went snorkeling, rode on banana boats on the Red Sea and slept in Bedouin tents.

My trip to Israel provided me with so many new and exciting opportunities, from learning, to having fun, to making new friends, and just being able to appreciate being Jewish in the Jewish Homeland. In the end, I came home with tons of new experiences, new friends, new knowledge and a new place I am ready to visit again.

Going to Israel has allowed me to start building my own connection to the Jewish State as well as provided me with a greater understand of its importance.

Jews have been persecuted for millennia, and it is important that we have a place of refuge. During the Holocaust there really was not place of refuge. No country wanted to allow a mass number of Jews in. But, today, any Jew can gain access to Israel, and Israeli society is made up of many people who left other countries in order to freely practice their Judaism. Every teen should be encouraged to take advantage of the vast variety of Israel trips offered. Any trip to Israel is going to be a good experience.

It is easy for teens like myself to take Israel for granted since it has existed our whole life. My trip to Israel and Poland has shown and taught me so much; I still have not fully comprehended my entire experience. However, I do know, that I will travel to Israel in the future, I will continue to build a relationship with Israel, and I will advocate for the necessity that Israel remain a Jewish Homeland and State.