Balkin Reports on NFTY in Israel Trip

AbbyBalkinIsraelTrip-01This past summer, I spent five weeks on NFTY in Israel’s L’dor V’dor summer trip program. In a group of 47 Jewish teens from all over America, I spent one week in Prague/Poland and four weeks in Israel. It all added up into being the best summer of my life.

We started off our trip in Prague, seeing old Jewish towns and learning about Jewish life before the Holocaust. Then, we ventured to Poland where we learned about the Holocaust. We visited many concentration and extermination camps, such as Auschwitz and other sites like Oskar Schindler’s factory.

AbbyBalkinIsraelTrip-02The experience of seeing the aftermath of the Holocaust first hand was truly life-changing. It made it all seem very more real, and our group developed very close connections with each other and our shared Jewish history. I will never forget the feelings or bonds I made in Eastern Europe.

The next week, we flew to Tel Aviv, Israel, and so began the most amazing journey I have ever had.

Israel is so completely indescribable and amazing. From the food to the people to the culture, I loved everything about it. We spent our first four days in Israel traveling through the Negev, where we climbed mountains and slept outside. I gained a new love for the desert and all of the kibbutzim that have made wonderful homes out of it. I loved climbing up the mountains and seeing the beautiful, breath-taking scenes.

We then began our travel to Jerusalem, and onwards to the northern parts of Israel. As the days flew by, our group got closer and closer until we were just a giant family. We spent many days going to different shuks (markets), and seeing all of the culture Israel had to offer.

Some of my favorite moments were riding camels, going to the Dead Sea, spending countless hours with my new friends, who became a second family to me, and all of the beautiful Shabbats we had together. There were too many amazing moments for me to write about all of them in just this short summary.

AbbyBalkinIsraelTrip-04I can still remember our very first Shabbat in Eastern Europe. We went to a small art gallery showcasing artwork from or about the Holocaust. We were confused as to why we were at an art gallery, instead of a temple. However, then a rabbi and four musicians entered and gave us one of the best services I have ever experienced.

There were four instruments used throughout the the service, including a guitar, drums, a flute and a type of xylophone. It was the most lively and fun-spirited service I’ve ever seen. We all sang along to new versions of songs and spent our first Shabbat feeling on top of the world.

Spending four days in the Negev Desert was easily one of the highlights of my trip. Not only did my group get extremely close, but I also saw the most beautiful sights. A camera really can’t capture the depth and beauty of the desert. We went on two hikes a day, up mountains and down huge sand dunes. Then we would spend the night in the middle of the desert under the stars, with amazing food cooked over a fire. I have never felt closer to a group of people. We were completely isolated in the desert together, and we became even closer as we climbed up mountains and accomplished huge hikes I never knew I could do.

The Dead Sea is indescribable and yet exactly as everyone says. You really do float, completely. It’s a feeling I’ve never felt any other time. Not only was the sand orange and contrasted by the beautiful white salt and blue water, but the sky was completely clear and almost cloudless. In the water, it does sting a little (sometimes a lot), but it’s like flying under the water. You can just lay back and without even trying you’re floating. It was beautiful and so much fun!

AbbyBalkinIsraelTrip-05I learned an incredible amount of the history and common conflicts in Israel. We even had the opportunity to spend several days with different Israeli teens.I was also lucky enough to do a program called Gadna, where I was put into the Israeli Defense Force for four days. It was the most intense four days of my life, but I loved the experience. We lived like the soldiers, and even got to shoot a gun, but I gained a lot of respect for every person in the IDF.

This trip was life changing for me. I learned so much about the Jewish history, Jewish culture and the state of Israel. I feel a million times more connected with Israel now that I have had a chance to experience it first-hand.

I also made 47 new life-long friends who are my second family. This summer was the most amazing experience of my life, and I wouldn’t have changed any of it for the world.
I want to say thank you to everyone who made this trip possible for me, including my parents, my temple, and the Cantor Scholarship Program. Words will never be able to express how grateful I am for this opportunity.

I hope to soon go back to Israel and spend even more time there, because in my heart it is a new home I will always be able to go to.

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