Jacksonville teen gets true Israeli experience on Federation summer trip abroad

 

BY ZOE MAIL

Trip Participant

 

Walking into my host Amy’s house for the first time, it suddenly hit me that I would be living with an unfamiliar family for two weeks. While having been to Israel several times before, I didn’t know what to expect this time around. I wouldn’t have guessed how much this trip would impact my life for the better.

 

Our group consisted of seven Americans and eight Israelis, ranging in age from 15-17. From the day I arrived at my host Amy’s house, I was treated like family. Her parents were very caring and I really enjoyed talking to her two brothers, even though the younger one, Guy, barely spoke any English. Amy and I bonded a lot in the two weeks I spent living in her home. I had an amazing time meeting her friends, celebrating Shabbat with her family, and going to a birthday brunch with her extended family. I found it interesting how similar our Friday night dinners at home in Jacksonville are to theirs.


Before I went on the trip, I figured there was only so much that could be fit into a two week trip. I was proven wrong. By the end of the trip, I felt that I had seen almost every inch of Israel as we packed in an incredible amount of activities every day. Our average day would involve waking up at six or seven in the morning, visiting various locations, then heading back to be home around six in the evening. You would think that after being together for almost twelve hours every day, our group of fifteen teens would be tired of each other. However, we enjoyed each other’s company so much that we spent every night hanging out together at one of the Israeli hosts’ homes. Our daily activities ranged from riding camels in the desert, to visiting the Western Wall (the Kotel), to doing a scavenger hunt in the local mall. Some of the highlights for me included floating in the Dead Sea and the overnights  in Jerusalem and a Bedouin tent near Mt. Masada.


Having been to Israel five times prior to this trip, I already knew how amazing Israel was. Yet, it was a different experience going with other American Jewish teens and staying with an Israeli teen and her family. Instead of merely visiting the country and feeling like a tourist, I was able to be a part of everyday Israeli life and to be immersed in the culture. The trip greatly strengthened my Jewish identity. It opened my eyes to a whole other side of Israel and gave me the opportunity to improve my Hebrew.


Every time I go to Israel, I am always surprised by how green the country is. I like the contrast of how technologically advanced Israel is, with how Judaism and tradition are incorporated into daily life. For example, almost all places are closed on Shabbat. The Israeli and American teens were all amazing and we became like family for the two weeks I was in Israel, then for the two weeks when the Israeli teens came to Jacksonville.


I am so thankful to our Jewish Federation for giving me this unforgettable opportunity. Also, a big thank you to Joan Levin and her family for the Gift of Israel scholarship and to Jill Abel for being the most amazing chaperone.