Editor’s note: For most of the teens featured in this section, this summer’s trip was the first time they went to Israel. A few had been before, but for short periods of time. Natania Lipp has spent a lot of time there and speaks Hebrew fluently. She’s also an excellent writer and wanted to tell her own story. So, even though she and Maggie Rosen (see story, this page) traveled together on the same trip, their stories are presented separately here.
[by Natania Lipp]
Israel used to be a vacation spot. I felt at home because I could speak the language and many of the restaurants were kosher. I felt comfortable because we would stay there for months at a time and I’d grown accustomed to playing at the playground nearby. Israel was a home for me, but it wasn’t yet a home for all of the Jewish people.
Israel was simply an experience I had already discovered. I had eaten the food, spoken the language, and even gone on tours. So when I signed up for ILSI (International Leadership Seminar in Israel) I figured it would be a fun place for me to meet new friends in BBYO.
In my Jewish youth group, BBYO, I am the Sh’licha of my region, meaning part of my job is to incorporate Judaism and Social Action into the programs along with promoting Israel advocacy. By going to Israel with leaders from the same organization, I hoped to bring some of my knowledge back to the Kentucky-Indiana-Ohio Region. Meanwhile, I expected to discover a little more of my Jewish identity along the way and gain a new appreciation for Israel.
It wasn’t until I climbed Masada with my group at the end of my first week that I discovered the true benefits I would get from mixing my Israel journey with my BBYO one. I knew the story of Masada, and I recognized how pretty the land was. But the connection between the importance of the land and the importance of the Jewish people living in it didn’t resonate with me until I went through it again with my peers. I was able to walk the same steps but see different things, to hear the same words but hear them in new ways.
Surrounded by 100 of my newfound friends, all of my low expectations of the land I had already been to disappeared. The energy at the top of Masada was contagious. People had waited their whole lives to set foot on this land and being there was a dream come true for so many that I couldn’t help but feel the same way.
As we did services at the top of Masada, I realized that the connection I felt to my friends and the connection I felt towards Israel had come together to make both stronger. Finally, my Israel journey and my BBYO one had intertwined to strengthen my respect for the holy land.
Being able to share my experience with other teenagers was what made Masada so special. The mood that they set made me realize the true magic of Israel. Our history shapes the present in a way that makes everyone feel at home.
In BBYO, I interpret a big part of my job to be making Judaism relevant without force. I want members to be proud of their religion because it’s what shapes our values, and because the traditions will stick with us forever, and because the holidays are fun and create memories.
It’s difficult to try to get people to appreciate their religion without forcing them into it. In Israel, Judaism just IS relevant. It’s a part of their daily lives. From the discussions we had every night, to the passionate and opinionated speakers we heard, to the long treks we took through endless desserts, I was able to shape my own identity around the land I was re-discovering.
Before this trip, I was expected to be an advocate of Israel. The idea of a Jewish state sounded like a good idea and so I supported it.
After experiencing the sense of community first hand, and being educated on the past and present status of Israel as a Jewish state, I am now a proud advocate for Israel, remembering that it’s always relevant.
The best part of Israel was finding a sense of community inside and outside of my group. The Jewish people are at home whenever they are together, but Israel is the only place where our past, present and future can all be recognized at once.