By Dan Lange, Director of Youth Programs
As we make the final preparations for your summer of a lifetime on NFTY in Israel, I found myself going down the rabbit hole, reading old blog posts from participants highlighting their journeys through Israel in years’ past. I was reminded, time and time again, that a summer in Israel – whether with your camp or a group of teens from across North America – is transformative; it is truly life-changing. For many of you, this has been on your calendar for 3, 5, 8, even 10 years as you have grown up looking forward to this journey. For others, it is a newer event. Regardless, it will change who you are, it will help you grow as a Jew and as a human being – you will return home more mature, more independent, and more connected to the Jewish people.
Below is one particularly inspiring blog post from Layla Cohen, a participant in 2016, that captures this sentiment:
I grew up surrounded by stories of Israel. Whether it was about the correct way to bargain, an enthusiastic (and I’m sure embellished) army tale, or even just a warning never to drink pure pomegranate juice, my abba’s stories about living in the promised land captivated me.
Years ago, having never even glimpsed the “Start Up Nation,” I decided I wanted to make Aliyah. Crazy, I know. But hearing all the stories of this place had me convinced that this was where I wanted to be. To me, this trip was the taste test, the strategic viewing of a land in which I might live soon. And, for the most part, it has lived almost exactly up to the stories I hear at home.
Just like I pictured, I bargained in marketplaces, ate sweet sabra fruit, saw olive-clad soldiers walking around chatting with their ice cream in one hand and their gun in another. Though the language I use to describe it may be flowery, to me there seemed nothing out of the ordinary with these sights. It was simply the place I’d been raised to know coming into reality.
And yet, though much here seems familiar, there are still times when I am caught off guard. These are the best moments. Unplanned by NFTY, unexpected by me, these moments have made my trip special. These moments, like hearing the Muslim call to prayer from the rooftops. These moments, like playing in the sea with a group of Israeli teens we didn’t know and learning and laughing over each other’s games while barely knowing each other’s names. These moments, like watching an ultra orthodox man take his daughter (wearing a bright pink shirt and two small bouncy pigtails) gently by the hand to lead her across the street, and realizing I had never imagined the super religious in the role of a loving father like my own. These moments, and many more, which have morphed it from a calculated viewing at a possible college campus to a special glimpse at the place which I hope to someday call home.
It is these moments that I will remember most when I have to leave here, and what reminds me why I wanted to come in the first place. It is these moments which will bring me back.