By Rabbi Rich Kirschen, Director
So much of our trip this summer is dedicated to experiential Jewish learning and Jewish identity formation. NFTY in Israel presents an itinerary that tells the epic, 3,000-year-old, story of the Jewish people; or what Israelis call from Bible to Bibi! Just as it is important for these teens to begin to grapple with 3,000 years of tradition, it is equally important for them to start wrestling with what it means to become an independent adult. We bring these Jewish teenagers halfway across the world to hike, swim, explore, and learn in a group framework which is an experience they will remember for a lifetime. At the same time, each teen is going through their own personal journey. And as we all know, being a teenager is quite tricky because while they are no longer kids, they are not adults quite yet. This summer is one of the milestones along the voyage when they begin to figure out what kind of adult they want to become.
The journey begins with the plane ride and holding on to their passport; it involves packing and unpacking many times during the trip. It also means navigating in a foreign country, using a different currency, and learning how to read another culture. Finally, it means spending time away from you, their parents and guardians, and figuring out how to activate their peers and counselors to celebrate their successes and address their challenges. Of course, in today’s interconnected world, you’re just a phone call or text message away, but the distance still provides an environment where our teens begin to see what their own capabilities are. That confidence only grows as the trip goes on, and truly, as their adolescence progresses through the end of high school.
In the Hebrew Bible it is foretold that when the children of Israel come back to the land of Israel after the exile, they will come back on the wings of eagles. This is an interesting metaphor because of the way eagles teach their young to fly. The eagle is among the highest-flying birds, and the way it teaches its young to fly is by keeping them on its back and tipping its wings so that the little eagle tumbles off and must either learn to fly or fall. The mother eagle must wait just long enough to see if the little eagle can actually fly. If the little eagle is falling, the mother swoops down and catches it. So, the eagle needs to keep a delicate balance between letting the little eagle learn and swooping in. This summer, we are all Jewish eagles, watching out for our teens and at the same time teaching them to fly.