By Ilana Schear, Registrar and Communications Coordinator
Another successful NFTY in Israel summer has come to an end. With Facebook memories and Timehop, I can’t help but to reflect on my own NFTY in Israel experience eight years ago in the summer of 2010. While I always had a passion for non-profit work and a deep connection to Judaism and Israel, never did I think I would be sitting here working for NFTY in Israel, years later, helping families send their teens on this journey.
Eight years ago, my mom took me to Newark Liberty International Airport to travel with 36 other teens whom I had never met. I heard about this program at my Bat Mitzvah, when I received my $250 NFTY in Israel gift certificate from my synagogue. Now, at the age of 17, I sat in the airport with my suitcase, bigger than me, ready to embark on this five-week journey. I sat in the airport surrounded by about 300 strangers. We listened to Paul Reichenbach tell us we were about to have the best summer of our life (if we followed the Brit Kehillah – Code of Conduct). At the end of the five weeks, I knew I was leaving with vastly more knowledge than when I arrived, and with memories I still think about today: riding a camel in the Negev, going banana boating on the Mediterranean Sea, snorkeling in Eilat, sleeping in a Bedouin tent, praying at the Kotel, having lunch in a Druze village, walking the cobblestone alleyways of Tzfat, hiking Mount Shlomo, and the list can go on and on.
I now use my personal experience to speak with families about the power of NFTY in Israel. I can confidently speak to a family about why they should send their teen(s) on our program because I am grateful every day my mom sent me. I know the impact this trip has. I know the opportunities it can lead to. This trip sparked my love of travel. Before this trip, I had been out of the country twice: once to Canada and once on a family trip to Israel. Since I traveled with NFTY in Israel, I have been to Israel five times, traveled to Central America, South America, all around Europe, and studied abroad for six months during my Junior year of college. So, when one year after graduating from college I heard about my current position posting, I knew there was nothing else I was meant to be doing.
I decided to dig into the data and here is what I found about the impact of NFTY in Israel this past summer. We sent almost 500 teens to Israel (250 of whom spent an additional week in Europe). These teens came from all around North American with 34 states represented, in addition to D.C. and Ontario, Canada. Teens represented 193 Reform Congregations and 13 URJ camps. 350 teens identified themselves as first-time travelers to Israel.
To see the teens arriving at the airport, checking them in, giving instructions on how to print their boarding passes, answering their questions about what the next 24 hours would be like, reading their blogs posts, seeing their pictures, and watching their videos throughout the summer, gives me such happiness (and a little bit of jealousy wishing I could still be 17 years old going on this trip again). There is no greater gift than being able to travel to Israel. To travel with NFTY in Israel, in my obviously unbiased opinion, is the greatest gift a teen can have.