Local teens share the impact of their Israel travel
“This past summer I had the opportunity to travel with my fellow campers from Beber camp in Mukwonago, Wisconsin to Poland and Israel for three weeks. Though we were in Poland for only three and a half days, they were some of the most powerful days of my life. During my Sophomore year at Atherton high school, I had taken an elective about the Holocaust, so I was prepared and well educated about the history of the event. Nothing can prepare you for seeing a room full of hair that was ripped off of victims, seeing a book that was four feet tall and fifteen feet long of all the victims’ names that were murdered. And when we finally made our way to Auschwitz Birkenau, the one with the famous front gate, it was horrifying. Standing in the middle of a place where I knew some of the worst moments in history happened, was too much to handle for most, and some of us got very teary-eyed. When we walked into the gas chamber, I was trembling and didn’t know what to think except thousands of people’s lives were ended right there. I was feeling sick, mad, sad and confused. How could someone kill all these people?
The trip lightened up from there though. We made our way to Israel and had the greatest three weeks of our lives. We 1toured the Western Wall, Yad Vashem, David’s Castle and many other historically significant sights. We also did fun activities like rafting down the Jordan River, climbing a mountain to watch the sunrise and floating in the Dead Sea. Overall, I learned how cool it was to be a Jew and how awesome and interesting our Holy Land is. I will always remember this experience and look forward to returning in the future.”
I consider the opportunity to visit Israel this summer a life-changing experience. Having travelled there before with my family many years ago, I knew what to expect, but the way everything made me feel, was extremely memorable. What stuck with me the most was visiting concentration camps in Poland. When I walked under the ‘Arbeit Macht Freit’ sign at the entrance of Auschwitz, feelings of disbelief went through my head. Standing on the train tracks at Birkenau, I had the same feelings. I was standing in the spots that I knew people had walked on to their death. Thankfully, I do not have any family members that died in the Holocaust but seeing the concentration camps gave me a sense of understanding that I didn’t have before. Seeing this inspired me to take a class about the ‘Rise & Fall of Nazi Germany.’ I hope to continue to learn more myself, and hopefully be able to educate others.
What stood out to me most during my trip was my visit to the Western Wall. Being able to physically touch what is said to be one of the holiest places in Jerusalem really rounded out my trip. The connection I made in Israel is completely unmatched. I was in such a special place with the people I had been waiting for years with to go on this trip. I reconnected with old friends and got closer with new friends. I left Israel feeling a connection with the country as a whole – knowing I needed to make many more visits soon.
Going to Israel impacted me by having a spiritual connection not only to Israel but to my peers as well. I am closer with people who are in the Jewish community and it motivates me more to be a proud Jewish girl. Israel was such an amazing trip and it is still hard for me to explain the incredible time I had. It still feels crazy to me that I went to Israel and made so many personal connections with people that I never imagined making.
– Elizabeth Hemmer