Teen Testimonial - Stav Salzman - Summer 2019


The bus ride to our first event was the calmest bus ride I've ever been on with Israelis - every American teen was sitting next to their Israeli host teen and we were asking questions to one another. I remember talking to my host Yoav and asking him some questions about his background, life in Israel and things he likes to do. As he answered my questions and after I answered his questions, we quickly realized we had so much in common. At that moment, I felt like this was going to be a summer I would never forget.  And, that is exactly what it was. 


The first two days in Jerusalem were very special days -- walking in the ancient streets, praying at the Kotel, exploring the City of David and Hezekiah’s tunnel, going to the shook and embracing Yad Vashem. After these crazy two days, it felt like I had known all these people my whole life. No one was shy; everyone was making new friends, and we all just got along so well -- it was hard to believe that we had only known these people for 48 hours. 


Throughout the whole trip, we visited so many cool places and participated in many cool activities, but my two favorite things were our visit to Yad Vashem and the overnight at the Bedouin tents and then climbing up Masada for the sunrise. Yad Vashem is the Israeli Holocaust Museum. This was an experience that will stay with me forever -- walking through the museum and taking all of it in was very hard. Seeing, hearing, and touching things no person should ever go through was very tough, but, in the end, it made me a stronger person. Going to sleep in Bedouin tents and learning about Bedouin culture was such a cool experience because I got to see how they live in the desert. I also learned about the Bedouin history. The climb up Masada to see the sunrise was amazing -- everyone was tired but we were all so excited and happy climbing up the mountain. Singing and just having a good time in Israel and then seeing the sunrise was awesome -- a view that will stay with me forever. 


Staying in an Israeli home and being hosted by an Israeli family was an amazing time -- feeling somewhat of a Israeli teen's life in Israel and getting to know his family customs and traditions which are very different from mine was an incredible experience. After being in Israel, I realized there is a culture difference between Jacksonville and Israel. Israeli culture is so welcoming. For example, when I met the Israelis, they went straight to hugs! There was always lots of food and I mean lots and lots of food!  They are very accepting and everyone's house is always open. For example, all the teens told me that next time I’m in Israel, their house is always open for me and if I ever need anything in Israel to let them know. There are so many more differences, but to me, all in all, it was just way better in Israel. 


After this trip my connection to Israel has strengthened so much because going to Israel to visit family is not the same as exploring Israel with people your own age and experiencing a teenager's life in Israel. The one thing that connected me the most to Israel was celebrating Shabbat there. In Israel, you can truly feel Shabbat - no matter if you are orthodox or not religious at all -- you can still feel it -- the quiet roads, the aroma of all the different kinds of food filling the streets, and the many people walking to synagogue. Shabbat with Yoav's family was a brand-new experience for me. I went to their good friend's house and from the second I walked in their house, it felt like home -- from the smell of the food to the family being so welcoming -- the noise but the good Israeli noise. 


After almost a week of being with the delegation, I felt like we were all one big family and that I had just met a group of people that will always have a place in my heart and will always be there for me. Waking up every morning and going to the bus to see the teens felt so normal and I remember the first day back in Florida -- it was so weird not seeing Yoav and his mom and not going to the bus. This whole trip impacted my life dramatically. Before the program, I thought this was going to be a regular trip to Israel, but I was so wrong. After this trip, I realized how important Israel is to the Jewish people and that Israel will always be my home. I want to thank everyone who was a part of this trip - the Jewish Federation & Foundation of Northeast Florida, my host parents, and the Israeli and American teens -- you will always have a place in my heart.