By Rabbi David Wilfond, Director of Education
On Friday morning, the teens were back in Tel Aviv to visit Independence Hall. This is the site where the modern State of Israel was born in 1948. Here the first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, read Israel’s Declaration of Independence 70 years ago. The group learned about the dramatic events of that day in the actual place it happened. Then the teens visited the popular arts and crafts fair of Nachalat Binyamin. Lunch was in the colorful and tasty at the Shuk haCarmel Market.
There is the dream and then there are bumps on the road of reality. Independence Hall represents the dream, but the path to fulfilment of the dream is far more complicated and at times tragic. From here the group went to Rabin Square to the site of the assassination of Israel’s Premier, Yitzhak Rabin, who had been a soldier in all of Israel’s wars and then desired to be a leader of peace. The tragic loss of Yitzhak Rabin and his vision and the implications for us today were the thrust of a deep conversation for the group at Rabin Square, the site of his assassination in 1995.
Friday night the group celebrated its last Kabbalat Shabbat in Israel. To make the last shabbat in Israel extra special the teens went to the Old City of Jerusalem to celebrate Shabbat at the Reform Section of the Western Wall with prayers services in the Classic NFTY Reform style. After dinner there was an “Oneg Shabbat” party to celebrate the best memories the group has shared this summer.
Saturday was a day for Shabbat rest and relaxation. In the evening there was a special Tisha B’Av memorial program.
Sunday morning the teens were hosted by a Muslim family in their home in Ein Rafa, a village at the outskirts of Jerusalem that is committed to promoting the co-existence of Jews and Arabs in the Land of Israel. The Mom of the family named Yasmin is a Muslim and an articulate teacher of Islam. Yasmin creates a safe space in which the participants can ask any question they have about Muslims, Islam and the Arab/Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Yasmin is very charismatic and does her best to challenge and break stereotypes and enables the students to engage with the challenges for Israel to be both a Democratic and a Jewish State. This promises to be very stimulating and compelling discussion for our teens.
On Sunday afternoon the group visited Mount Hertzl. This is like Israel’s “Arlington National Cemetery.” Here lie soldiers from all of Israel’s wars. This site tells the story of the struggle of Israel throughout its history. Here one learns of the inspiring lives of people who paid the ultimate price so that the People of Israel might live. Buried side by side one finds generals and simple soldiers, men and women, young and old. All are equal in death. All gave their lives. May we through our lives give their sacrifice the meaning and respect that is deserved.
Monday will be the group’s last full day in Israel. They will spend it in Jerusalem, the heart of Israel’s body and soul. Jerusalem is an important part of Jewish Memory. Jerusalem is ancient and tenacious – and so is the Jewish People! Like NFTY in Israel comes back to the Jerusalem at the end of the summer, we hope one day the participants might come back to visit the Land of Israel. Every time you come the experience is different and we want them to come back often and to feel at home in this eternal place of the Jewish People.
The Jerusalem is considered the holiest and most famous symbol of the Jewish People in the Land of Israel. We want this to be a part of their memories of Israel. There are many metaphors and stories about Jerusalem that can inspire a lifetime of connection. Each one of us is a brick in the Wall of Jerusalem – one of the stones that holds up the Wall of the Jewish People. The eternity of the Wall of Jerusalem; its warmth in the dark of night, how it is cooling to the touch when the sun is blazing, the power of the notes-prayers wedged in the cracks, the impossible becomes possible when one see the flowering plants growing “impossibly” in the wall, picking a stone that becomes your stone – that you will bring your children to see your stone that it might become their stone – that they might become a part of the story…..etc etc etc. Jerusalem can release a cascade of emotions and inspirations. Almost every synagogue around the world has a picture (or tapestry) of Jerusalem it the symbol of the Jewish People par excellence. It is ancient and tenacious! Jerusalem has an almost mystical strength, durability and has survived the centuries and been witness to almost all of History. Jerusalem is ours and part of our story and it is our symbol – of hope, strength, survivability, and the future. Jerusalem will be here in the future. And we pray we too will be here – and maybe our children and grandchildren one day will be here too.
The last days of the trip are designed to inspire memories for a lifetime. Creating Jewish memories is what NFTY in Israel is all about. Our hope is to create Jewish memories that inspire the participants to feel a part of the Jewish Community and to feel a commitment to its future as happy, proud members and maybe even a leader in the next generation of our people – L’Dor V’Dor (from Generation to Generation). Freud noted that only people with memories can have dreams. At NFTY in Israel we want the participants to have Jewish Memories that can lead to Jewish Dreams. We want to help the next generation to have the tools to dream Big Jewish Dreams for the Future of the Jewish People. May the participants travel from “Strength to Strength.”