Teen Testimonial - Arin Nathans - Summer 2019

I attended the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School from kindergarten to eighth grade. I have grown up learning the history, culture, and language of Israel and have always dreamt of what the country would look and feel like in person. So, when the opportunity arose to go to Israel and stay with a family, I took it! Meanwhile, it had not hit me that I would be walking where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob walked until the plane landed at Ben Gurion Airport. Stepping into the airport, I found myself surrounded by Hebrew on the walls, on signs and different types of Jews. I felt an overwhelming feeling of joy because I realized that almost everyone around shared the same history as me. I was in a place where being Jewish was encouraged, not looked down on or unknown to the people.

After going through customs and security, I met the Israeli teens and the girl I would be staying with for the next ten days, Liel Nachmani. They greeted us with hugs and smiles, and conversation started flowing quickly. On the bus to our first activity at a park, Liel and I bonded over the difference in scenery from Israel to Jacksonville, Florida. She laughed as I marveled at the road signs and the boxy shape of the buildings. At our first activity, our tour guide Naomi gave us little notebooks to write about the sites and feelings we were about to experience. The idea of moving around a foreign country with kids I had never met who did not speak my language very well was frightening. Although, the scariness went away as soon as I got to Liel’s house that night and a falafel dinner was waiting for me. Her parents and six year old brother, Ram, sat with me and made me feel right at home.

The next two nights we would be sleeping out; the first in a hostile and the second in a bedoin tent. During the day we drove to Jerusalem and visited the old city. The very idea that I was standing where King David and so many figures in the Torah stood was unreal. The same emotions came over me as I floated in the Dead Sea, paddled down the Jordan River, hiked Masada, and placed my piece of paper with a prayer on it in the Western Wall. That tradition is one that is so spiritually connecting to God and something I only imagined doing. While I was there, I noticed how all different types of people visit the Kotel, but they are all required to cover a certain amount of their skin. When I pointed this out to some of the Israeli girls on the trip, they shared their explanations and thoughts about the requirements. They told me how the Western Wall is the most holy place in the world for Jews, so girls cover themselves to be modest and respectful. However, they continued to tell me how unreligious teen girls do not agree with the fact that they are required to follow the dress code when they are not religious. Still, they respect those who are.

Traveling Israel and visiting the beautiful sites was amazing, but what made it even better was how I got to learn about the history of the country and people while learning about the modern culture, as well. The teens on the trip told me about their schools, markets, jobs, siblings, and houses. I got to shop in an all kosher supermarket, buy Israeli snacks, find out which foods are popular, and I got to pay using shekels everywhere I went! I saw the way these Israeli teens interact with each other, adults, strangers, friends, family and Americans. They loved to share about their daily schedules and routines but they loved even more to hear about a day in the life in America. We compared the difference in food, religion, language and much more over the course of the trip.

I bonded so well with the teens on this trip that I now have family in other states and in another country. Almost every Israeli offered to open their home to me if I go back, and Liel’s family treated me as one of their own. I did not feel like a guest, I felt at home. They opened their hearts to me and made my experience in Israel even more meaningful. 

I want to thank the Jewish Federation & Foundation of Northeast Florida for sponsoring the program and Joan Levin as I used the Gift of Israel money toward the cost of the trip. These ten days were truly the best of my life so far, and I hope to go back to Israel and see my other family very soon.