Jax Jewish teen creates connections with Israelis at home and abroad

 

BY BARBIE GOLDSTEIN
Teen Exchange Participant

 

Before I tell you about my incredible trip to Israel, I would like to thank everyone at the Jewish Federation of Jacksonville for making this trip possible because it was without a doubt the best experience of my life. I became involved in this program when the Israelis were in Jacksonville for the last few summers. As a result of their visits, I made some great friends during the past two years and I really wanted to go and visit them in Israel.

 

Before we even landed in Israel, all seven Americans bonded in the airport and on the overnight trip to Ben Gurion Airport. We were greeted by the Israelis we had been talking to for over a month via Whatsapp. It was such a great feeling seeing Sharon, the girl who I was partnered with, in person for the first time. We had talked about all of our common interests for more than a month. The trip planners could not have done a more perfect job with picking the family who hosted me as Esty and Ami, Sharon’s parents, were so incredibly kind and personable while Sharon’s brothers, Misha and Tal, were so intelligent and kind. Givat Ada, was the town where I stayed, which was 15 minutes from Pardes Hanna.


 Once we initially arrived in Jerusalem, we walked around and saw all the sights I had learned about since Pre-Kindergarten and I think that was the best feeling I had when I was in Israel. Seeing everything I’ve known for almost 16 years and being able to be a part of its history was truly amazing. I think most of the Americans teared up when they saw the Kotel, and we also saw King David, multiple murals, the Jewish Quarter, and many other historical sites. One of the most memorable parts of staying in Jerusalem was the overnight at the hotel, where we had a dance party for the remainder of the night in the hallway of the hotel. During the day, it’s all about absorbing the history; but at night, it’s all about having fun with the whole group.

 

Another favorite experience was the overnight we spent in the Bedouin Tents. I thought it would be somewhat dirty because it was a tent in the desert, but it actually reminded me of the kind of resort a desert-wanderer would see in a mirage. It was so much fun because we rode camels, ate the best food and had another dance party. That’s when I found out I had so much in common with all the Israelis. The last day was a free day we had, where I was able to see the friends I had made from previous Tikkun Olam trips to Jacksonville, who I didn’t realize how much I missed until I saw them again. 

 

Ultimately it’s about the connections you make over there that makes Israel more special. I’m so happy I went on a trip with other teens from our other Partnership cities to Israel as I couldn’t imagine going there and not taking part in this program.