Jacksonville teen explores Israel with Federation's help

          Sabrina Mail, 2015


            This past July, I walked into an unfamiliar house, knowing that it would be my home for the next two weeks. I didn’t know what to expect but I definitely would have not expected how quickly I became comfortable with the house and the family I was staying with. My host parents, Nir and Revital, treated me like another daughter; making sure I had all of my needs met and that of course meant I was never hungry! My host, Hadar, became like a sister to me as I met all her friends, talking and laughing late into the night.

            Living with an Israeli family was not as different as I thought it would be. Sure, the older brother, Alon, was in the army and would come home every weekend in his uniform, and yes, they didn’t drive or work on Shabbat,  but similar to here, the parents worked during the week, while the kids were in camp. Despite everyone's busy schedules we had dinner as a family almost every single night.

            Our teen group, which consisted of five Americans and seven Israelis, traveled around the country every day. Most of our trips took place during the day but we did have a few overnights to Jerusalem, Masada, Tiberius and the Golan Heights. It truly was amazing how much we managed to pack into each and every day! Our activities ranged from hiking Mount Carmel, to riding camels in a Bedouin camp, to going to the holy Western Wall. We did everything from spiritual activities to historical sites along adventurous excursions, (which in Israel, is basically the same thing.)

            Many things surprised me about  our homeland, such as the numerous amounts of female and male IDF soldiers just going about daily life in their uniforms. At one point, we even saw an off-duty female soldier walking down the street in uniform, while carrying a Coach purse, which is most definitely not something you see every day in America! Something else that surprised me about Israel was how just driving on the highway could be so beautiful. On both sides of the road you see tiny villages dotting the hillside and there were way more trees than expected. I was also impressed by how technologically advanced Israel is as a country. Almost every store and restaurant has free wifi, which definitely came in handy for the Americans in our group.

            This experience has made me feel so much more connected to Israel and Judaism. Just knowing that you are surrounded by Jewish people at all times is an amazing feeling. This particular trip made Israel seem like more of a second home, because I was able to experience the non-touristy part of the country. It’s incredible to see how much Judaism is incorporated into normal life. For example, on Shabbat and holidays, there is no public transportation and most restaurants and stores are closed.  I would definitely recommend this trip to teenagers around the age of 15, because you get to meet the most terrific people (both Americans and Israelis), make wonderful memories in the process, and experience all aspects of Israel.

            I’m extremely grateful to the Jewish Federation of Jacksonville and its Israel Partnership program for providing me with this life-changing opportunity. Thank you also to Mrs. Joan Levin and her family for the Gift of Israel scholarship!


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