By Rabbi David Wilfond, Director of Education
Now that the NFTY in Israel journey has ended, another journey is beginning. Your teens disembarked from the airplane very tired, but nevertheless very fulfilled. It is without a doubt that the NFTY in Israel summer is a challenging summer and ultimately it is a summer of growing up. These young people who were so far away from their homes needed to work together in a group experience that was often demanding and frequently called upon them to harness their inner resources. Challenges ranged from arriving at a group consensus, helping others who weren’t feeling well, and other important adult skills that at different moments pushed them out of their comfort zones. These teens crossed the desert together like their ancestors, made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and learned about the complexities of the modern State of Israel. They also made deep connections with the land of Israel and even more importantly, they made lasting friendships with Israelis who were their counselors and Israelis who are their peers. And before our groups left Israel, they processed with their educators what this summer meant to them, what it meant for them to walk through the Jewish story, and what this experience will mean for them when they return home.
For the last four weeks these teens have been living in an environment where the dominant culture is Jewish. Israel is a unique country because the national language is a Jewish language – Hebrew. The overall rhythm of time is Jewish because each day of the week is named according to its relationship with Shabbat. And finally, Israel is the only multi-ethnic, pluralistic society made up of Jews from around the world, whether they are from Poland, Ethiopia, Romania, Kurdistan, Morocco, Russia, Iraq, etc. In Israel, being Jewish is your condition. However, for so many of our young people in North America, being Jewish is an option. Jewish identity today in North America probably requires more hard work than ever before. It also means that these teens need the tools to be intentional and creative in forming their Jewish identities.
It is our hope that this intensive experience will have energized this generation to begin taking on the roles of Jewish leadership within their communities, whether through URJ camps, temple youth groups, NFTY, or activities at their local synagogue. We also hope that they have returned home with more questions than answers; and that that these questions will spark them to want to better understand Israel with all its wonders, but also its imperfections and problems. We see this summer as the beginning of their deep, lifelong commitment to the important relationship between the American Jewish community and Israel. And this means being able to both defend Israel when it needs our help, but to also be honest and loving critics of Israel’s policies when we think our Jewish Israeli cousins are making mistakes. Because in the end, this trip was about understanding that when it comes to the Jewish people, we are family.
Thank you so much for sharing these remarkable teens with us.