Connecting With Israel, Strengthening My Identity | Teen Ink

Connecting With Israel, Strengthening My Identity

September 11, 2021
By erose2 BRONZE, South Easton, Massachusetts
erose2 BRONZE, South Easton, Massachusetts
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

This past summer, I went on a pilgrimage to Israel for 5 weeks with United Synagogue Youth (USY).   I wish to share highlights from my adventure and describe how the experience impacted my identity.    

My parents gave me a brief glimpse of Israel in the Summer of 2019.  We visited for  two weeks and I could not wait to go back.   In the Fall of 2019,  as a student at Solomon Schechter Day School of Boston, I made life-long friends with exchange students from the Reali School in Haifa.  We hosted them in our home and at my local synagogue, and I was supposed to return to Israel the following Spring to tour and see my Reali friends again.  Then COVID hit and the world shut down.  You all know the story.  I felt sad and confined.   In the Spring of 2021, when I found out I could be vaccinated and travel to Israel with USY, I jumped at the opportunity.  My mom flew with me to JFK airport and as soon as I met my new group of friends at Terminal 4, I knew I was off and running on an adventure of a lifetime.   My mom says I didn't even say goodbye.  

When I think back upon the trip, what moves me most are the experiences that made me feel connected to the State of Israel which in turn strengthened my Jewish identity.   When we landed,  I immediately felt connected by  the Hebrew language.  I have been able to study Hebrew at Schechter and The Wheeler School,  yet nothing compares to landing at Ben Gurion and being able to understand what everyone around me is saying.  I could translate the street signs and know where I was at all times.  I could communicate with anyone.

In Israel, everywhere you go, every step you take, there is a story.  One day, we casually strolled  through one of the Jerusalem gates but stopped abruptly when we saw something that took our breath away.  We saw bullet holes embedded in the Jerusalem stone and a mezuzah made of shrapnel.  We kissed the mezuzah and acknowledged what must have occurred in that very spot that allowed us to walk freely through those gates.  

I feel deeply connected with the people of Israel.  My great-great grandparents on my mother’s side, Shoshanah and Yacov Richman, donated land in Tzfat in 1948.  An ancient fortress, referred to as The Mitzudah, stands on this land.   When my parents took me to Tzfat in 2019, we visited and I saw the monument constructed in their honor.  When I went to Tzfat with USY, I could see it from a distance. I love walking on the land where my family has walked. 

I always feel deeply moved whenever I visit The Kotel (the holiest Jewish site). On one visit, we encountered a bar mitzvah party.  The people celebrating all spoke only Hebrew, but there was live music and we all knew the songs because they were the same songs we sing at our simchas in America. We connected with these strangers through Jewish music and we did a horah and I found it so beautiful. 

I mentioned the friends I made from the Reali School who I could not wait to see again.  One day we visited a restaurant in a Druze village.  The last name of the restaurant owner sounded familiar!  It turns out that the owner is the grandmother of one of my Reali friends who lives right down the street.  My friend came over and welcomed us.  This was the first of many times I saw my Reali friends throughout my visit. I am thankful for the many community service opportunities USY provided. We worked with underprivileged teens to create art that will be sold to support them. We also helped build a dam in Ein Kerem to lessen the risk of flooding.  Finally, we helped archeologists unearth caves from the time of the Maccabees. 

Without a doubt, this trip strengthened my Jewish identity and my commitment to doing all I can to support Israel. 

The author's comments:

My name is Emma. I play field hockey and I enjoy reading, writing, playing guitar, and acting in musicals and plays.  

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