I am not a deeply religious person, and I never have been. I’m not entirely sure what to believe when it comes to God. When it comes to Judaism, I connect to the cultural side as opposed to the religious side. I love the culture of Judaism. Coming on this program, I knew I’d be exposed to Jewish and Israeli culture but that inevitably I would have to face the more religious aspects of Israel.
Going to the Kotel was not something I thought would mean much to me. I had been before, and I never experienced a religious catharsis (or something of that sort) that would cause me to feel a great respect and appreciation for this wall. When I got there, as expected, I did not feel much. It was just a wall that I’d seen before in pictures and a couple times in person. It was nothing too special.
However, when I walked up to the wall, something changed. It was nothing major, but all of a sudden I felt a connection to something. I thought about the wall and about how it had been built by our ancestors thousands of years ago. If anything, it was cool to see and feel something so old.
Then I looked around me, and I saw people praying. People were praying with such kavana (intention) that it felt wrong to even watch them. Some people were crying, some even sobbing. I decided to pray Mincha, which I never do. I figured if I would feel anything, I might as well try to feel it here, at the holiest place in Judaism. Nothing really changed, but I still felt a connection to Jews as a nation.
It may sound weird, but my connection to the wall comes from the fact that other people feel so connected to it. The Kotel, for some people, is the holiest place in the world, one of the places they want to see before they die. For me, it’s not, but my respect for those people translates into a respect for the Kotel. I feel connected to the Jews as a nation when I’m there. The Kotel is a place where anyone, whether they believe in God, don’t believe, or don’t know if they believe, can believe in something—the power of unity.
We arrived in Israel on Monday at 2 p.m., exhausted but exhilarated. The 14-hour nonstop flight from LA had seven kids, and we landed about 2 hours before the group flight from New York. The trip was off to an interesting start when my friends Marcia and Paige, who I know from camp, lost the group at the airport. It was mostly funny, but also pretty embarrassing.
We got to the Youth Village in the heart of Jerusalem in the pouring rain and had to bring our suitcases down to our dorms. The next few days went by super-fast, filled with orientations, getting our schedules, and even our first tiyul (trip,) to the Negev. We rode camels and stayed in totally inauthentic Bedouin tents. It was tons of fun but a little awkward since we still didn’t all know each other.
Since then, we’ve been getting accustomed to dorm life and our classes. The day is pretty hectic, with class from 8:45 to 6:30 and breaks for lunch and free periods. During our free time we can go off campus, and there’s a yummy falafel stand, bakery, and super market right outside the chava (youth village).
I’m already having the most amazing time and I can tell it’s going to get better. Check back soon for an update!
It’s been three-and-a-half years since I was screaming and crying at LAX’s Tom Bradley International Terminal. I threw the most outrageous tantrum ever—and I had no shame. I probably looked and sounded like a spoiled little brat.
I remember going through security (though I tried to resist), and a TSA employee said to my face: “Who do you think you are, Lindsay Lohan?” I’m still not completely sure what she meant by that, because I don’t think Lindsay is known for having temper tantrums or anything of the sort, but still. I was clearly being an obnoxious (not so little) girl.
And I hate to say it, but I don’t really regret throwing that fit. But that was then, and this is now. Today I am boarding a plane for Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, where I will spend the next four months in Jerusalem. I’ll take all my classes there (in English!) on a program called TRY (Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim).
My seventh-grade year, my mom took my family and moved us to Israel. It was just for the year, but I tried to refuse to go. I didn’t (and still don’t) think it’s fair to force your teenage daughter to leave her friends and family to go somewhere she has absolutely no desire to go. Nevertheless, I went.
Three years later, I haven’t changed my mind: I still wish I had not gone, and when it was over I resented both my mom’s Zionism and Israel itself.
Last year, when it was decided that my brother’s bar mitzvah would be held in Israel, I said I wanted to spend the least amount of time possible there and the majority of our trip in the other countries we would be visiting on the trip.
But that’s when things started to change.
When the time came to go to Israel, we only had two days in Tel Aviv and three in Jerusalem – it wasn’t nearly enough time, I decided. I wanted to stay longer, and I didn’t know why, but all of a sudden I felt this major appreciation for Israel.
Later, I realized why: I felt truly comfortable there, even though it was a foreign country. It was a feeling I’d never felt anywhere other than California. Even sometimes traveling to another state in my own country I didn’t feel as comfortable as I felt in Israel. I felt like I belonged there; like I fit right in.
While at Camp Ramah this past summer for my last year as a camper, they gave a presentation to us about TRY. My initial reaction was that it sounded amazing. It was like camp times 10, and four times longer. I knew it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. When I got home from camp, I immediately told my parents I was interested. They were shocked — understandably! — but pleased.
Because of that seventh-grade year in Israel, I still feel a teeny bit of resentment towards Israel. I’m constantly in the presence of Zionists and people who love Israel so much, who’d give anything to go there, but I can never really relate, because I have an awkward love-but-still-sort-of-hate relationship with Israel.
I think I decided to take this semester abroad so I could broaden my horizons — I know it sounds cheesy but it’s true. Shalhevet is a really small school, and as much as I love my friends (and I do love them), I feel like I need to change things up a bit. I want to do something I’ve never done before — and why not Israel?
So I’m going in hopes of diminishing any speck of resentment I have towards Israel. I want to be able to say, without thinking twice, “I love Israel.” I feel like I’m almost there; I just need this little—or maybe big—step to get me to where I want to be.