Myra and Robert Kraft Passport to Israel – Teen Testimonials
Read what our Temple Emanuel Teens have to say about their trips to Israel!
A Moment to Remember
by Jordana Conti
As our group walked deeper into the crater, everything around us became darker. Our tour guide sat us down, one by one, in our own space on the desert floor. Once everyone was sitting, we were given fifteen minutes to ourselves to think and stargaze.
I looked up at the sky, lit by the infinite amounts of stars that held their place in the endless pit above me. It was beautiful. The first thing that came to mind was how blessed I was to have the opportunity to see such a beautiful sight.
I looked down at the ring on my finger, which glowed from the light of the stars. The ring has an inscription which reads ‘הי נמצא בּפרתים הקתנים’ or ‘G-d is in the details’ and this was especially true that night. G-d was there, in the mountains which seemed to glow from the city lights far behind them, in the twinkling sky above, and in the ground below my feet. So I said the only thing that felt right in that moment.
“Shema Yisrael adonai eloheinu adonai echad.”
I then proceeded to take some time to pray and thank G-d for everything I have been blessed with. I thanked G-d for the health and love of friends and family, and a heart to love them back with.
In that moment, I fell in love with Israel. Everything became so clear and I knew I would come back. I love this place. I love these people and I love everything about what I felt in that moment.
I know that I will remember this forever because it is something that I will never allow myself to forget. I will remember it because if I ever lose myself along the journey that is life, I will come back to this moment. The moment where I found out who I want to be.
Jordana traveled to Israel with USY Adventure, a 4 week program in which teens travel across Israel.
by Josh Finkel
This summer three days of my six week Israel trip on Na’aleh with Camp Yavneh, were devoted to an immersive army training experience. I generally don’t think of myself as an athletic person so army training was the part of the summer that I least looked forward to.
We could not ease into the experience. We hopped off the bus at the Jerusalem forest campsite, and were immediately commanded to do many demanding tasks. We had to run back and forth carrying stretchers of sandbags on our shoulders, to crawl on sharp rocky terrain using our elbows, and whenever one of us was late to an activity, we were forced to do push-ups until the last member of the group arrived. We slept outside under the stars, and had no restrooms or showers. We went to sleep late, and woke up early in the morning. During the night, we all had different shifts of guard duty. One evening our commanders woke us all up and made us run with the stretchers all around the campsite.
Throughout this experience, all the members of my group were very tired and stressed, and some had to leave early to go to a hotel or hospital because of medical concerns. I dreaded the imminent final morning, when we would have to wake up at four and walk many miles carrying the heavy stretchers. The length of this walk blew the other hikes of the past 3 days out of the park. I actually was thinking about trying to convince one of my counselors to let me leave, like the sick kids, in order to avoid it.
When the time for the march came, however, it was surprisingly easy. The members of my group supported and inspired each other and together we were able to do what we might not have been able to do alone. Through this experience, I learned that anything is possible if we set our mind to it and gain the strength that comes from working together as a community. My small sample of an army experience gave me a greater appreciation for the contributions of Israel’s teenagers that serve in the Israeli army for several years during a time that many American teens are in college. I also think I learned a little bit of what inspires them and helps them through the experience.
Jews have always had to struggle to survive. No matter how hard that struggle has been, or how big a mountain has been in our way, the Jewish people have always persevered, inspired by our proud tradition, faith, beliefs, and strengthened by our community. I think this is why our people has survived for thousands of years, and why we have completed so many journeys along the way.
I am so grateful to the Parritz Memorial Scholarship, and the Myra & Robert Kraft Passport to Israel program for supporting my travel to Israel this summer, where I was given the chance to experience the journey of the Jewish people firsthand.
by Andrew Gerson
After learning about Israel for countless years in religious school at Temple Emanuel and Prozdor, I was finally given the opportunity to go with Camp Young Judaea. I started attending Camp Young Judaea when I was 10 years old, and now had the opportunity to travel to Israel with 48 teenagers who had become my best friends over the past 6 summers.
Our first week was spent in Jerusalem, where we toured the Old City. In our first 24 hours in Israel, we toured the Old City, walked through the Siloam Tunnel in the City of David, and visited the Kotel. Visiting the Kotel was one of my favorite moments of the trip. At the Kotel, my friends and I put on Tefillin and prayed at the wall. I remember making Tefillin in religious school at Temple Emanuel and was now able to put on Tefillin at one of the holiest sites in the world. This was when I knew how special the trip would be.
After spending time in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and the Golan Heights in our first two weeks, we drove south to the Negev. Our first night in the Negev was spent in the Bedouin tents. We rode camels, ate Bedouin food, and stargazed. Stargazing at the Bedouin tents was one of my two favorite moments on the trip. We walked out away from the tents and into the desert, where it was completely dark. We lied down and looked at the stars for at least 30 minutes in complete silence, just being grateful for the opportunity we had. This is when I knew the desert would be my favorite part of Israel, much like David Ben Gurion.
But perhaps my favorite experience from the five weeks I spent with Israel came on a hike through the desert. We began the 24 hour hike at 4:00 PM and hiked through the desert until around 7:00 PM. At seven, we stopped at our campsite and put down our bags. My friends and I decided to climb up a nearby hill to watch the sunset. After climbing up the hill, and almost falling multiple times, we made it to the top and watched the sunset in the middle of the desert. This experience made me realized how one of a kind the trip and Israel really is.
Being exposed to Israeli people, places, ideas, and especially food, really made Israel so special. I am counting the days until I have another opportunity to go back to my home, Israel.
by Abigail Miller
This summer, I was given the unique experience of seeing Israel through a different lens than I previously had with Nesiya. Journeying with fourteen other teens, from all walks of life, I learned more about myself, others, and most importantly my Jewish homeland and identity, than I ever imagined was possible.
The desert was where it all began. Just three days into the trip, we left the small bit of civilization we had been in, and ventured off on a three day hike. No bathrooms. No beds. No cell service. Just friends. We were forced to become close. Start asking others deep questions. Questioning our own morals and beliefs. This was when I knew this trip would be the greatest five weeks yet.
As every day passed, and unforgettable moments were created, I grew closer and closer with this tiny country of Israel. My experiences, deeply rooted in the physical land we were in, slowly made me realize the great significance of being just where I was. Learning about the Torah is one thing, but to see the places the Torah specifically references is a whole different form of education. I had discussions with my Israeli friends and American friends, all with wide ranges of Jewish observance, about their views on so many different topics. This was profound.
Exposure to people, places, ideas, and opportunities that seemed impossible to have, was what changed me for the better. Israel, a place I am so lucky to call my homeland, has given me insight into amazing things. It will always be close in my heart, even if I may be six thousand miles away.
Abigail traveled to Israel with Nesiya, a 5 week program in which Israel and North American teens experience Israel together through art, hiking, dialogue, and social activism.
by Maddy Ranalli
One of the most memorable experiences over the course of my three weeks with MitzvahCorps Israel was the day we spent in Tzfat, a beautiful, secluded, and mysterious mountain town. Together, we toured the city, watched vibrant Bar Mitzvah processions, engaged in a thought-provoking Tikkun Olam workshop, and ate the best falafel I have ever tried. Up until about 3:30, every person and thing I saw exceeded all of my expectations.
While in Tzfat, we helped to excavate underground ruins. I was excited; I was ready to learn about the deep history of this gorgeous city. We toured the tunnels they had already unearthed before getting work gloves and tools to get started. Descending the stairs into the ruins, we were broken into random groups to start on projects. I was part of a group of five – four girls and one boy. As soon as we reached the bottom stair, we quickly became a group of four so that the boy could work on ‘stronger, more manly lifting.’ As an avid feminist with a keen interest in politics, I was slightly put off by the comment, but knew that we had to start working, so I moved on and forgot about it.
My task was lifting rocks with another girl; most we could lift on our own, and some required both of us to get them across to the big pile. For about 30-45 minutes, we were working at a quick pace, lifting every rock that came into our pile. However, suddenly, we had to stop lifting the stones to go wrap decorative rope around footbridge posts. While walking over to our new site, it was briefly explained to us that we were asked to change jobs because we have womanly bodies not meant for the heavy lifting. Increasingly frustrated, I began my new task, thinking about it the entire time. The thing that angered me the most wasn’t even that my first job was perfectly manageable, or that I am significantly better at lifting things than I am at wrapping twine, but that two women told us that, two people who I automatically assumed would have feminist views aligned with mine. I wanted to say something, but I couldn’t. I was giving my time and strength, and playing by their rules and yet I felt powerless, an emotion I am not quite used to.
On the bus heading back to the kibbutz, I started to reflect on the experience. On the first day in Israel, we were told that we may see things we didn’t agree with and even things we considered morally wrong. I thought about how this was probably one of those experiences, where I saw and understood something I didn’t agree with, but had to grapple with it for the time being. I was angry, but at least I understood.
But the thing was, I didn’t understand. I thought I knew the intentions of the women, but I totally disregarded the obvious cultural gap. When we discussed the work later in the evening, I discovered that it is common in Israeli culture for women to not lift heavy objects, in fear of damaging their uterus. Regardless of whether or not I agree with that rationale, they only intended for us to be safe. They meant no harm to me or any of the other women working; in fact, their intentions were the exact opposite. I came into the work with my interpretations and ideas, which I wrongly assumed they agreed with or knew about.
This is probably one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned. While we may think we are going to a new place with a totally open mind, our minds may actually be lacking an awareness of cultural gaps. In order to be an open-minded volunteer, traveler, and person, it’s imperative that we recognize this. Just like we must adjust to jet lag, high temperatures, and Kibbutz life, opening our minds to cultural differences is just as significant. Understanding and adjusting to these cultural differences made my experience with MitzvahCorps Israel all the more eye-opening and memorable.
Maddy traveled to Israel with MitzvahCorps Israel, a 3 week program that provides teens with immersive opportunities to engage in social action work and cultural exchanges.