By Rabbi Loren Sykes, Director of Israel Immersives
This week, I visited our teens in Northern Israel while they were at the Sea of Galilee, the Kinneret. It was a typical hot, humid summer day in Israel, making the cool waters of the Kinneret even more attractive for swimming and floating around. My dog, Hamilton, had never been to the Mediterranean so I took him with me only to discover that he had no interest in going in the water, despite the heat.
Ein Gev Beach, located in Kibbutz Ein Gev on the edge of the Kinneret, is beautiful. There are shaded, grassy areas to sit, nap, and barbecue. On the lake, our teens were swimming, splashing, and floating around in what are called Banana Boats. When I first arrived, all three buses were in the middle of leadership and group building activities. From what I saw, everyone was into the various activities and was having a good time. Soon, it was time for lunch, and everyone made their way over to the grassy area where the food would be served.
As everyone waited for the food, I visited with different groups of teens, learning their names, and finding out where they lived. I also asked about how they were enjoying the trip. Teens shared stories about the things they enjoyed, as well as the things they thought could be different in the future. I was impressed by their openness and honesty. One comment I heard several times was that although the Sea-to-Sea hike was challenging and not always the most “fun,” those who did this chavaya were proud of themselves for completing the challenge. They learned that they could overcome difficult elements of the hike and discovered a new level of resilience. Other teens talked about how much they appreciated the general beauty of the country. Some told me how much they enjoyed trying out new foods and having authentic versions of the store-bought Hummus they ate at home. Finally, lots of teens just enjoyed the fact that they were able to be outside with their friends with relatively few restrictions. All in all, this past week was focused on rural and natural Israel with hikes up Mt. Bental, rafting on the Jordan River, and looking out over the entire North from the Arbel, and the teens had a great time.
This coming week, the teens on Bus 17, Bus 18 and Bus 19 will see a different side of the country: urban Israel. They will spend time in Tel Aviv doing everything from taking a graffiti tour to visiting the Jaffa Flea and Antiques Market to learning about Start-Up Nation at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation. From there, they will shift their focus to modern Jerusalem. They will learn about the life of Israeli Arab citizens when visiting the village of Ein Rafa. They will spend time contemplating the meaning of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem. Finally, they will learn about the founders and heroes of Israel at the Mt. Herzl National and Military Cemetery.
Over the entire trip, participants on our NFTY in Israel trips got to see the beauty of the country; learn about the complications, challenges, and nuances of Israel; taste their way through the diverse cultures brought to Israel by immigrants; and experience the differences between the various parts of the country. They got to see and experience what this week’s Torah portion, Ekev, tells us about the land that was promised to our ancestors:
“For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill.” Deuteronomy 8:7
They got to enjoy some of the Seven Species that characterize the land of Israel:
“A land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey.” Deuteronomy 8:8.
I hope that as the trip draws to a close, for all except Adventure 7, that our teens will feel that which is described in Deuteronomy 8:10:
“When you have eaten your fill and are satisfied, give thanks to the LORD your God for the good land which Adonai has given you.”
You gave your teen an extraordinary opportunity this summer to experience Israel. I hope they have “eaten their fill” for this trip, are full of lots of experiences, and will be able to share their gratitude, and their stories with you, upon their return to North America. I also hope they will return often and that we see them back in Israel very soon.
Important Departure Update
Yesterday, the Health Ministry and the Israel Airport Authority changed the protocol for entry to Ben Gurion International Airport. Until the other day, staff members and non-travelers were permitted to enter the airport. Now, however, only ticketed travelers are allowed to go into the airport. That means that we will not be able to accompany the teens through the pre-flight security and check-in process and up to security check. Only flight chaperones will be able to do so. We are in the process of contracting with Smile Tourist Services, the company that handles VIP entry at Ben Gurion, to accompany and assist our groups as soon as they enter the airport to assist the flight chaperone and the teens get through this process.