Every summer, hundreds of American teenagers travel to Israel under the auspices of programs such as the Lappin Foundation’s Youth to Israel. Y2I, a “rite de passage” for many North Shore Jewish teens, is intended as a life-changing Israel experience. 2014’s trip was uniquely so.
As their plane landed at Ben Gurion Airport, news broke that the fate of three kidnapped boys was clear: their murdered bodies had been found. Within days, Hamas rockets sequestered the Y2I group in northern Israel, precluding visits to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea and Masada. It was simply unsafe to proceed with the trip “as usual.”
The teens wrote post-trip essays about their experience and, with the permission of the Lappin Foundation, we share passages from many of them, joined together into a single voice.
“This trip taught me the true definition of being Jewish. It was not until I was actually in Israel, with the rockets and fighting, that I understood how strong we are. Israel is an amazing and resilient country and we were lucky enough to witness it firsthand.
The Israeli kids told me how important it was to just go through your day with a smile, and make the best of a dim situation. I will take that piece of advice with me and use it for the rest of my life. I never thought one trip could teach me such a big lesson.
What I admire most about Israel is her strength and heart. Israel and the Jewish people have always faced adversity. But even when times get tough, even when other people and other countries knock us down and try to belittle us or hurt us or say we are not good enough, we always get up.
I feel it is part of my responsibility to let people know about the real struggles in Israel, not the fake rumors. This is extremely important to me, and Y21 gave me the ability to understand it better.”
During this wrenching time for Israel and Jews everywhere, it is easy to get caught in the web of relentless media coverage, political polemics and sharp-tongued rhetoric. How fortunate we are that we can also tune into the voices of those with the most at stake: our children, who will live in a future we will not see.
This originally appeared in the Jewish Journal on July 31, 2014.