By Rachel Landman, 6 Points Sci-Tech Israel Project Manager
It’s hard to believe that almost a decade ago I was buying a suitcase, packing my hats and water bottles, and preparing to embark on my NFTY in Israel journey as a 16-year-old Crane Lake camper. I remember the mixture of being nervous about being across the world for 5 weeks away from my family, while also excited to experience a new place with a community that I loved so much.
When I saw the roster of our bus, I realized, that as a 1st session camper, I had only been to camp with half the group. Even of the 1st session campers on the trip, many of them had been in a different bunk. I had a few very close bunk mates and friends on the trip and figured that similar to my experience at camp, we’d stick together. That didn’t happen. There was something really special about our bus community that allowed us to transcend the social structures we had developed at camp and build new relationships. We were all in the same position, traveling without our parents for the first time, exploring a foreign country, and trying to figure out our connection to this place we had been taught about for countless years.
These relationships that I built have stayed with me until today because of the community that our NFTY in Israel trip fostered. One girl on the Crane Lake bus had been in my bunk during my first two summers when we were 9 and 10, but besides that we didn’t have much of a connection. It wasn’t until rooming together on NFTY in Israel that we became friends, which ultimately led to our friendship as Machon (CITs) and counselors. We were lucky enough to go to college together, live on the same hall freshman year (by coincidence) and she is still one of my best friends today.
Just this past weekend I went to the bridal shower of someone I would call one of my closest camp friends. While we didn’t grow up going the same sessions, when talking about how our relationship developed, it became apparent it was through our time together on NFTY in Israel, hiking Mt. Shlomo, long bus rides, and eating ice cream every day. These experiences are what laid the seeds for our life long friendship.
Lastly, my current roommate in New York City is a girl who wasn’t even on my bus or in my unit, but rather my bunk mate at Gadna during the Chavaya week. We became fast friends as we rushed through 30 second army showers and glanced at each other confused while Israeli commanders instructed us in Hebrew. Following Israel we stayed in touch, she convinced me to join NFTY, and then both coincidentally ended up in New York 8 years later.
These are just a few of my NFTY in Israel friendships that have lasted to this day.
As we enter our last month before the summer, I challenge all of our NFTY in Israel participants to think about what they are looking for this summer. Is it strengthening your relationship to Israel? To the Jewish community? Is it stepping out of your comfort zone? Trying something new? Making new friends? Whatever it is, dive in! Try a new food that might seem scary, have a conversation with someone you might not imagine talking to outside of NFTY in Israel. Whether you’ve been to Israel or you haven’t, or your traveling with your best friends, or no one who you know, I can guarantee if you put yourself out there, you’ll see experiences, relationships, and connections from NFTY in Israel popping up throughout the rest of your life.