BBYO, NFTY, Camp Livingston and Beber Camp sent groups to Israel
BBYO trip adds leadership training to Israel trip
[by Holly Hinson, Special to Community]
For Maggie Rosen, going to Israel this July was the culmination of a long-held and much-anticipated dream.
The 17 year old, a senior at Kentucky Country Day, had been hearing about the trip for years. As the recipient of the Ellen and Milton Cantor Israel Scholarship Fund Award from the Jewish Foundation of Louisville in May, Maggie knew she was going on the BBYO ILSI (B’nai Brith Youth Organization International Leadership Seminar Israel) trip and had been eagerly awaiting the day of departure on July 2.
“Since I was a freshman, older girls have known and talked about this trip. It combined two of the things I love most – BBYO and the opportunity to go to Israel,” the teen said.
Indeed, Maggie has been heavily involved in BBYO since her freshman year, serving on the Regional Board KIO and holding the offices of both chapter communications officer and chapter president in 2012. In addition to the Cantor Award, Maggie also received the BBYO’s Ellen Faye Garmon Award and was one of seven teens from the KIO (Kentucky-Indiana-Ohio) region participating in the three week Israel trip, including Louisvillian Natania Lipp (See story, this page). Maggie also joined approximately 100 other youth from around the world on the trip that was for high school juniors, seniors and college freshmen.
Maggie said she expected to see the tourist spots and she knew the focus of the trip would be on leadership. The journey exceeded her expectations. “It was so inspiring. Every place we visited was so rich with history. We were really immersed in Judaism. We saw landmarks where my ancestors were 3,000 years ago, and they’re still standing,” she said.
“I always knew the importance of Israel and my Jewish identity, but to make that personal connection with our homeland really made me feel closer to my faith,” she added.
The Israel trip also afforded the teen the opportunity to exercise her leadership skills – and learn new ones. “We had a real community experience and got to plan and lead Shabbat services. We connected our Jewish roots to our leadership theme and Torah readings. It was exciting,” Maggie said. Learning about the differences in the practice of Judaism in Israel and America was another aspect of the trip that Maggie found interesting.
“We learned how they do things differently,” she said. “The Jewish traditions are just a huge part of their culture. They say Shema every night and don’t drive during Shabbat. They keep kosher. Everything revolves around their religion. After Israel, these things seem even more important now – to see it first-hand and bring it back home. I feel a greater responsibility to lead other Jewish teens to make that deeper connection.”
One outing that Maggie said she found very moving and educational was the group’s trip to Masada, particularly once she learned the landmark’s powerful history. “We got up very early in the morning to climb and they told us about how years ago the Jews were under the rule of the Roman Empire. They couldn’t rebel and decided their only freedom was death, so they committed mass suicide on top of the mountain. When I was standing there, I realized I was seeing the same sights the Romans must have seen all those years ago, and I could imagine everyone lying there. It sounds sad, but I thought it was amazing how the Jews sacrificed themselves for their faith and freedom,” she said.
These type of experiences led Maggie to an understanding of the importance of supporting Israel. “I am definitely more passionate about Jews in Israel and their right to exist as a Jewish state. I am proud to be Jewish and have a place to call home.”
Since the trip, Maggie said she sought out her rabbi to talk to him about her experiences. “I wanted to tell him how much it inspired me. I want to get more involved with the synagogue and with JCC (Jewish Community Center),” she said. Maggie also wants to return to Israel at some point to spend a semester abroad and is considering Indiana University for college since it has a large population of Jewish students.
To the Cantor Family, the Jewish Foundation and BBYO, Maggie said she wants to say thank you for the opportunity to go to Israel. “It just means the world. I always knew Israel was important but I didn’t truly have a personal connection to it until the trip. I want to stay closely connected to my Jewish faith and I want to protect Israel – our Jewish homeland. The trip was amazing. It does make a life-changing difference.”