I’ve put this off for quite some time, but lately have not been able to think about anything besides the two and a half month trip to Israel that completely changed my life.
For those who do not know, I attended Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School. At CESJDS, seniors graduate in early-February and in late-February embark on a three month journey, which includes a week in Poland, two days in Prague, and, most importantly, two and a half months in Israel.
I entered the trip with no expectations. Students from previous classes always said this trip was life changing, but I never thought much of that. Before my visit, I felt no connection to Judaism or Israel. I had no idea how much that would change.
Gadna is a program in which some Israelis go through in order to prepare themselves for their required army service. However, it’s also open to groups like mine that are learning about the military (or Israeli Defense Force).
I lived the life of an Israeli Defense Force soldier for four days. I wore a uniform, shot an M-16, and slept in a tent. The whole GADNA experience helps open your eyes towards how things work in America. I believe we often take it for granted that are not required to go to the army. The Israeli teenagers, even those who do not want to spend time in the army, take great pride protecting and serving their country. I was there for the Israeli memorial day and, honestly, felt more connected than I do for Memorial Day in America.
Me and two good friends spent our entire ten-day spring break in the heart of Tel Aviv with a gorgeous view of the coast line. Independence is something I enjoy, and these ten-days were the first of my life where I was really without any guidance. It was just me and two friends in the middle of an enormous city.
It was in Tel Aviv where I realized that my time in Israel was the last point in my life where I would really have no responsibilities. Life as a kid is awesome, and for some reason this kind of all hit me while in Tel Aviv. I realized I soon would be in college where work and class would almost dictate my life. I made the most of my time there.
Cities are so inspiring for some reason. I can’t put a finger on why.
I lived in the magical city of Tzfat for three weeks. Most of my time was spent in a kindergarten where I interacted and played with around 20 kids for hours each day.
My Hebrew was generally good enough to make my way through Israel. However, speaking Hebrew with 3-5 year olds in a kindergarten can be a bit tough for someone with my level of Hebrew. Kids speak fast, move fast, do not explain much, and are not patient. Despite this, I made a very large impact on all of these kids, which is something absolutely remarkable to me. Even with the language barrier, most of the kids cried when they knew it was my last day.
After leaving the kindergarten each day I’d drop by the best falfel place in Tzfat, grab an iced coffee (sometimes two), and then play cards and relax with friends.
Tzfat is a city in the mountains with gorgeous views and fresh air. There’s just something spiritual about the entire city. Most of the people who live in Tzfat study a lot of Kabbalah, which is a more philosophic and real-life way of thinking about Judaism. Studying Kabbalah was the first time I had ever felt some connection towards religion. I have always been more of a visual learner, anyway.
This band is made up of musicians and composers from Tzfat who play several styles of music. They play on a variety of unique instruments, like the Pantam drum, Santur, sitar and more. This is ethnic Jewish music at its best, which combines texts and motifs from early Kabbalistic literature. The performance is a truly unique experience, rhythmic and stirring, and is often held in the hills, forests and fields that surround Tzfat.
Here’s a video of Agadeta playing:
Yam el Yam
“Yam el Yam” means Sea to Sea. My grade made a four day, three night trek from one side of Israel to the other — from the Mediterranean Sean to the Sea of Galilee.
I loved Yam el Yam because I did not bring or use any electronic devices, which I usually have a tough time breaking away from. I felt a connection with nature that was absolutely primal. Jumping into 45 degree natural springs of water after hours of walking through the heat made for some of the best moments of the hike. I had also never camped out before, so sleeping in a tent for three nights in a row was absolutely awesome.
There is really nothing more natural than sleeping out under the moon and stars. If only we had done some fishing and hunting and supplied our meals that way…
Drive for two hours through the Negev and you won’t see all that much until you hit Eilat, a city in the desert located on the Red Sea. Eilat isn’t really in the middle of nowhere, but there is simply something special about a booming city in a desert.
We snorkeled in the most northern coral reef in the world. We skipped rocks in the Red Sea. We hiked to a spot where Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia were all visible. Eilat was a blast and obviously a unique experience.
I have accepted that I will never have an experience close to the one I greatly enjoyed with my entire high school graduating class.
There is just something about Israel — maybe it’s the land, the food, the people, I don’t know — that makes me want to live there. All I know is that I will be back at some point very, very soon. Maybe for good.
I obviously could not recap an entire three-month trip into this post. If you have any additional questions about my journey, feel free to drop them in the comments.