My Jewish Life
Posted on 07/22/2013 @ 09:56 AM
When I was young I found out that my grandmother was Jewish, but I didn't know how to be Jewish. My parents do not practice Judaism. When I was little I started to notice symbols that were Jewish like the hamsa, Star of David, and menorah. I was always asking questions about Judaism, but my mother did not know the answers. My interest in Judaism started when I was younger, but I was never able to explore it. About five years ago I met my friend Nastia at camp. This camp was divided into different nationalities including Ukrainian, Jewish, Chinese, Russian, and Moldovan. I was in the Jewish group with Nastia. In this group they explained to us the laws of Judaism but did not teach us how to practice the laws. At the beginning I was not sure if I belonged to this group. A few years later Nastia told me about BBYO. At the time I was interested in different religions and was on a mission to find myself, so I said yes and joined BBYO. Now, here I am on ILSI having my first truly Jewish experience.
At the airport I was really nervous and forgot all of my English words! I was searching for the BBYO group for forty minutes. When I finally found them I had a sign that said "BBYO," and they did not understand what that meant! I was nervous because Nastia was not able to come to Israel. I was scared for what was to come, being the only Ukrainian, and knowing nothing about BBYO or Jewish life. This changed when I started to meet new people. It became easier to be here, to talk, and to understand. I have never been alone. Someone is always helping me and caring about me.
When we started doing prayers before and after eating I was very confused. Throughout the trip people explained all of the different practices including services and Shabbat. My mishpacha was responsible for planning Saturday morning services. During the service two friends, Cory and Ilana helped me understand. People cared about my first Shabbat experience, and I learned my first prayer at my first Shabbat. I was excitedly awaiting the second Shabbat.
The second Shabbat was special because all of the girls felt like a big family. In the evening everything feels deeper. We talked about the spirituality of the elements (water, earth, wind, and fire.) I felt connected to the wind. As the wind blew, it felt like the whole universe was holding us together.
Throughout ILSI I have been feeling more and more Jewish as I connected to all of the places we visited. Learning all of the history of Judaism made me proud of who I am. It is inspiring to see that the Jewish people never give up. Now I feel that it is my responsibility to help keep the Jewish people alive. It is exciting to see hundreds of teens just like me, with different beliefs and opinions, come together as a community.
- Masha, Kiev, Ukraine
I'm Finally Feeling Something Today
Posted on 07/19/2013 @ 08:14 PM
Today, we visited arguably the two most emotionally and physically draining sites in all of Israel, covering everything from the horrific events of the Holocaust to the heroic tales of Michael Levin... Shadowing the day in a somber mist.
I've been to the Holocaust museum in DC thrice, and it really wasn't that different than Yad Vashem. The eerie atmosphere, the disturbing sound of only shuffling footsteps, and symbolic concrete infrastructure... All synonymous with the other museum. However, what was truly different was emerging from the other end of that long triangular tunnel and seeing the Old City of Jerusalem, a tacit "screw off" to all those opposed to the Jewish existence on this planet. With that victorious realization, the group was able to make it through Har Herzl.
On top of that mountain, filled with the remains of Israel's greatest leaders, lays Michael Levin. That was when the cemetery became personal for me. I have no family in Israel... My great grandparents came from Russia, Germany, and France after World War I, and never considered making Aliyah, so I didn't connect with most of the people buried there. I realized their historical significance, but there was no true emotional tie. However, I had a very strong connection with Michael Levin. He was a Philly boy, just like me. His grave was littered with Temple U student ID cards and Phillies paraphernalia, and at that moment I connected with him, which was a strangely unique, yet magical experience I will never forget.
I'm finally feeling something today. Without any discussion of God or the Bible, I was able to connect with a Jewish boy from Philly who gave his life for his homeland, in the most significant city to my ancestors, myself, and for generations of my family to follow.
- Evan Samuel Garber
Where's The Meaning
Posted on 07/16/2013 @ 08:09 PM
I never used to stand during the mourner' s Kaddish. Growing up in a Conservative synagogue, those who stood only stood because they, themselves, were mourners. I muttered "amen" at the end and "barechu" throughout because that's what my mom did. But those who stood only stood because they experienced a tragedy.
So going to different synagogues for Bar or Bat Mitzvahs, I sat during the mourner's Kaddish. My friends stood because that's what tradition and custom had taught them, but if I wasn't mourning, I felt no meaning to the prayer.
I couldn't find it.
So I sat.
Last year, I observed Tisha B'av at Perlman Camp. One of the last days of Kallah, closure to my previous three weeks of discovering my Jewish identity was found in a day of looking at the past and future of the Jewish people. Tragedy and success were discussed. I fasted.
At the end of the day during the Mincha (or afternoon) service, the Rabbi suggested we stand during the mourner's Kaddish in remembrance of the destroyed temple. I stood.
After all, on that day I mourned.
While I stood, I realized that the destruction of the Temple wasn't personal to me in that moment, but that didn't mean it had no meaning; it still can have meaning to my people or to those close to me.
The tragedies that personally applied to me weren't the only ones that deserved to be stood for. They have their own meaning to me. While I didn't initially find it, it's always there.
So I stand. It's not what my Rabbi, congregation or mother does, but it's my interpretation of a part of Judaism. I found meaning.
This Tisha B'av was spent in Jafa. It started with a beautiful service in front of the Jerusalem skyline; a city whose decimation we were mourning–now illuminated.
Earlier in the day, I went to a discussion led by an Arab/Israeli couple. They talked about being Arab/Israelis, and how, although the Arabian man feared it, he couldnt help falling in love with his Jewish wife. They told us to try and find love and meaning in everything we do. Throughout the day, I fasted like I did at Kallah. But I didn't connect like I did at Kallah.
Later that day, I was talking to a staff member about how it seemed Iike fasting was particularly hard this year. He told me that if you're fasting correctly, it's not that hard.
"If you go in with the right intention, it heightens your senses," he told me, "You can block out the hunger by focusing on what you're doing. You just have to find the meaning behind the fast."
The meaning behind the fast. Behind standing during the mourner's Kaddish, behind finding your own interpretation of tradition, behind falling in love.
So now I drive back to the kibbutz, surrounded by my best friends. We're singing on the bus. The Jerusalem skyline fades to pink.
There can be meaning in everything. It just has to be found.
- Sofie Jacobs
Shabbat in Tzfat
Posted on 07/14/2013 @ 05:54 PM
As we embarked on the tenth day of our Israel journey, the 101 teens and the amazing staff headed to the mystical city of Tzfat to celebrate Shabbat.
We started the day by hearing from a man who has lived on the Lebanon border on the Israel side for many many years. Aryeh ben Yaacov shared his political views on Israel's relationship with neighboring countries. Participants were able to ask questions and learn about his opinion on political issues. We spent the remaining sunlight kayaking on the Jordan river. The sunshine and the refreshing water of the river was a fantastic way to end the exhausting but incredibly exhilarating week.
ILSI then headed over to our hotel to welcome in Shabbat. The BBG's and Alephs were separate for services. The night included meaningful and extremely insightful programs. The girls were able to hear about the tradition and background of lighting Shabbat candles. After we lit candles together as BBGs, we headed to an overlook of Tzfat to hold a girls-only Shabbat service. After services, BBGs and Alephs came together as one big community to have Shabbat dinner together. I can't believe we have already celebrated two Shabbats together so far and each one has gotten even more meaningful and even more incredible and has allowed ILSI to become one large family.
BBYO B'Yachad 2013
Posted on 07/12/2013 @ 04:00 PM
Yesterday evening, over 350 teens on BBYO Passport experiences in Israel convened to celebrate their being together in the Jewish Homeland this summer. True to form, the event drew together an international community of Jewish teens from the USA, Canada, Europe and Latin America. Our ILSI participants, Ryan Dishell and Maya Guthman, gave the following speech at the event, and we wanted to share it with everyone who wasn't there .
Maya - B'ychad. A word meaning together. Describing our ability to convene as one unified body of many trips, here, in Israel
Ryan - Hi! My name is Ryan Dishell, and this year I will be serving as BBYO's Grand Aleph S'gan, the Vice President of programming for the Aleph Zadik Aleph. I come from Los Angles, California, thanks to BBYO, I have the opportunity to spend my summer here.
Maya - Hi! My name is Maya Guthman, and this year I will be serving as BBYO's International S'ganit, Vice President of programming for the B'nai B'nai b'rith Girls. For me, this is my second time traveling to Israel with BBYO passport. The first being March of the Living 2012 And this summer I could not be more excited to be back here, with all of you as a member of ILSI.
Ryan - It is a pleasure to be with all of you tonight. And moreover, it is a pleasure to visibly see each of you, unified with care for exploring Israel for you yourselves.
Maya - B'ychad brought us all here
Ryan - From the west coast
Maya - To the east coast
Ryan - And all the world surrounding
Maya - With each of us here, we commit ourselves to strengthening our movement, bringing the present and future of the Jewish people from all over the world, back to the homeland, as we collectively secure a strong Jewish future for our tomorrow.
Ryan - So tonight, come together, mingle, have fun, don't be shy, meet new people, because these are the people just like you, that want to explore all that Israel has to offer.
Maya - Once our trips come to a close, each and every one of us has the responsibility to bringing the knowledge that we have gained from our individual experiences back to our respective communities. After tonight however, your opportunity to come together with one another does not come to an end, as we hope to see each and everyone of you at BBYO's International Convention 2014 in Dallas, Texas. Whether you are a member of BBYO or not, this is your opportunity to come together once again, create your atmosphere, and have an unforgettable time, B'ychad.
Ryan - Post about your time here in Israel. Tweet it. Instagram it. Whatever it may be, our individual experiences as well as our collective experience here is truly a special one. Don't be afraid to let the world see the moments that capture the momentum of our movement.
Maya - and with that, have fun tonight, tomorrow night, and every other night you have left. Take it all in.
Ryan - We hope you truly enjoy all that Israel has to offer you, that is of course, until next time.
We have posted many more pictures from the event in the Summer 2013 Gallery. Enjoy!
What Would You Fight For?
Posted on 07/09/2013 @ 06:54 PM
Long days have never been this fun. It began with an early wake-up call on our final morning at Kibbutz Almog. Our first stop was the Bar Kochba caves. As we crawled through narrow tunnels, our educators taught us the story of Simon Bar Kochba and his rebellion against Roman rule 2000 years ago.
We continued to an exclusive look at an IDF Air Force base, where we heard from Nati, a veteran fighter pilot on the Israeli military and its unique role in defending and maintaining the state. We also had an opportunity to climb into a Black Hawk helicopter that Nati flies
Finally, we arrived in the desert to spend the night in Bedouin tents. Camel rides, homemade pita, and a bonfire allowed us some final relaxation after possibly the trip's longest day so far. Shabbat seems pretty far away.
While the diversity of the day makes it hard to put my finger on a specific theme, the underlying thread was an analytical look at some of the more difficult topics in Israeli culture. The caves sparked discussion on our question of the day: what would you fight for? At the Bedouin tents, we questioned our Israeli educators on the role of Bedouins in modern Israel. We tried to fall asleep quickly, but we were too excited about all that remains in store for us on ILSI 2013
Shabbat in the Holy Land
Posted on 07/07/2013 @ 10:08 PM
The first couple days I've spent in Israel have been beyond amazing. I've become close with so many new people and have fallen completely head over heels in love with Israel. When we first arrived, we were told that the group of kids partaking on ILSI would soon become a close knit community. I did not expect for this to happen so quickly. It is only the fourth day of the trip and everyone is already the best of friends.
The most unbelievable thing I have experienced thus far on the trip has no doubt been my first Shabbat experience in the holy land. Spending Friday night outside with all of my new friends praying and singing was absolutely perfect. On top of this, for Saturday morning services we had a great discussion about big life questions that are often left unanswered. This really opened my eyes to the wonders of Judaism. We then discussed Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s idea about how Shabbat is more about holiness in time than holiness in space. This was something I had never thought about and it gave me a new perspective on how we can celebrate Shabbat.
Unfortunately though, like every Shabbat, it had to come to a close. We ended Shabbat at the Almog Kibbutz pool, where we all participated in Havdallah with our feet in the water. I can honestly say it was amazing and like nothing I've ever experienced before. I couldn't have asked for a better way to spend my first Shabbat in Israel. I'm really looking forward to the next week when we get to celebrate Shabbat again!
- Mazzy Bell
Our First Days in Israel
Posted on 07/05/2013 @ 07:08 PM
It's the end of a long, hot, sunny day here in Israel on ILSI 2013. The madrichim are going around to do room checks as we all get ready to rest up for our long day tomorrow - but none of that really matters because today was an amazing day.
As the morning slowly grew old and the afternoon became young, we approached the City of David. We toured the dry caves where we saw some of the ruins of the well known King David and continued on to the water tunnels. The wet tunnels were incredible to walk in! After that we ate lunch and went to the Kotel (Western Wall). For some, this was a very touching experience and for others, it was more of a learning experience. For me, I found it to be overwhelming in the knowledge that at some point during the day, Jews all over the world would be facing toward the place where i was standing. We then left the Kotel and entered the Jewish quarter and although we were unable to go to the market, we did get to see some of the main shops and lifestyle within the Jewish quarter. Each group partook in conversations that provoked questions such as, are you a Jewish American or an American Jew and how do you define Judaism? We toured one of the oldest synagogues in Jerusalem and it was beautiful with exquisite architectural detail and artistic talent (the a/c was nice too).
Ending the day at Ben Yehuda with friends was my favorite part of the day. Being able to see all of the different shops and food places was so fun. Having the independence to roam and choose where we wanted to explore within our boundaries was exciting! It was also so fun running into some friends from back home on Ben Yehuda. Today was great. Here's to hoping for a great tomorrow!
- Halle Herman
Welcome to the ILSI blog
Posted on 06/24/2013 @ 02:10 PM
Welcome to the Summer 2013 ILSI blog! This blog will serve as your insiders’ look to a summer of international Jewish teen travel as experienced by the teens and staff themselves. We’re capturing the action and magic taking place in Israel and streaming it straight to you. So recline your seats and keep your tray tables down, we hope you’ll enjoy the journeys ahead…
See the pictures from the road on our SmugMug page.
Thank you for joining us on this journey!