Israel summer travel 2014
In addition to synagogue summer missions, which have been covered in AJP first-person accounts, Tucsonans traveled to Israel for diverse reasons. Here are highlights of some of their sojourns:
From the end of January through the beginning of June, Simon Esbit, 17, participated in Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim, an accredited semester-abroad program for high school sophomores, juniors and seniors. Based at the Israel Goldstein Youth Village in Jerusalem, TRY provides the challenging academic structure of a school, the Jewish values of a youth movement and the social experience of a camp. Simon’s semester included a first-ever Poland excursion. The students studied pre-Holocaust Poland, a pulsating center of Jewish life and learning, and then memorialized the annihilation of European Jews prior to and during the Holocaust. In the Israel Core Course, instructors took the classroom outside to teach history in a tangible manner. At the Western Wall, Simon said, “When I touched the Kotel for the first time, I felt as if the energy of everyone who has ever touched that spot instantly sped through my body. I felt thousands of years of wear and tear instantaneously pass through my fingertips and pulsate through my body.”
A small world story: The night before his return to the United States, Simon decided to go back to the Kotel. While there, he lost his wallet. (Luckily, it didn’t contain any important documents.) His wallet was found by a young Arab shop owner who wanted to return it to its rightful owner. Days later, Edward Wright, director of the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies, walked into the embroidery/jewelry store. He had just finished leading a University of Arizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Magellan Circle excursion to Israel and Palestine. When he made a purchase and was asked for identification, the shopkeeper realized that Ed lived in the same city as the owner of the lost wallet. He entrusted it to Ed to return, which he did.
Simon returned to a summer counselorship at Camp Ramah in Ojai, Calif., before entering his senior year at Ironwood Ridge High School. Following this four-month “once-in-a-lifetime” Israel adventure, he looks forward to continuing his commitment to Judaism and his community.
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For three weeks from mid-June to early July, Martha Rast took her two children, Tucson Hebrew Academy students Moshe, 12, and Panina, 10, to live and work on an organic farm in Israel. She contacted World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms and arranged their stay at Sha’ar HaGan (Garden’s Gate) on Moshav Orot in our Partnership2Gether region.
Similar to the kibbutz experience of working in exchange for food and shelter, this outdoor-loving family lived in rustic accommodations in an army tent set up in a barn. They did everything — plant, prune, pack vegetables for customers of the farm’s community-supported agriculture program, inspect the irrigation system, milk goats, make cheese, care for baby chicks and help build a shower. “And I cooked many meals as well,” added Martha, who wanted to bring her children to Israel before Moshe’s November Bar Mitzvah and provide them with a fun summer experience while being part of Israeli life. Mission accomplished.
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Oshrat Barel, community shlicha (Israeli emissary) and Weintraub Israel Center director, spent part of the summer with her family back in her hometown of Beit She’an. From June 11-13, she and her Partnership2Gether co-chairs, Rebecca Crow and Ken Miller, attended Partnership meetings in Kiryat Milachi and Hof Ashkelon.
At the beginning of June, Rebecca and her husband, John, witnessed incredible Partnership projects and experienced a warm reception from our partners and home hospitality families. The couple also attended the wedding of the son of Rebecca’s cousin in Petah Tikvah. They visited the ruins at Beit She’an, explored the cultural offerings of Tel Aviv, enjoyed the beach at Eilat, and just “hung with family” during their stay.
Ken spent two months in our homeland, June 8-Aug. 1 He spoke of being caught up, along with everyone else, in issues relating to the Hamas escalation of violence after three Israeli teens were kidnapped in Gush Etzion on June 12. Following the Partnership meetings, Ken drove to central Israel to staff the archaeology excavation of Tel Gezer. It was “a very good archaeological season” for five weeks until it was interrupted by Iron Dome missiles shooting down long-range rockets from Gaza aimed at Tel Aviv. Each day, the number of rockets increased, and the archaeologists’ home base, Neve Shalom, had at least six alerts during the period. Night and day, they could see the missiles attacking Israel and hear the explosions of some landing. His flight home was cancelled due to the Federal Aviation Administration temporary stoppage of flights to Israel. He was forced to stay an extra week with friends in Jerusalem. Ken’s summation: “Eight weeks in Israel, cancelling other meetings and home hospitality invitations with the Partnership due to miluim (army reserve duty) call-ups and the danger of rocket shellings, and worrying about friends and family showed me that Israel is at its most serious moment since 1948 and that they need our support more than ever.”
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From July 6-16, Michael Achtman and Sarah Langert jointly staffed a Birthright Israel trip. This was Sarah’s third time staffing Birthright, Michael’s second. Each trip is amazing and unique, said Michael, and this was no exception. The group left for Israel at the beginning of Operation Protective Edge. The itinerary consisted of such Birthright staples as riding camels, Shabbat at the Kotel and climbing Masada to view the sunrise, even in the midst of the conflict. Their journey also included running downstairs to their Jerusalem hotel’s bomb shelter upon hearing a siren, and even more harrowing, walking back from a park on Shabbat when a siren went off, forcing them to get on the ground and cover themselves since they weren’t near a building that could provide shelter. They could hear the Iron Dome missile intercepting the rocket from Gaza, protecting them and the citizens of Jerusalem. Michael observed that just as Israelis went about their normal lives between trips to bomb shelters, their group went about its tour of Israel. Participants received a small taste of what Israelis encounter in their daily lives. “I was humbled to have had the opportunity to stand with Israelis during a trying and painful time, being a part of the collective experience, showing not only my support but the support of American Jews and the Birthright Israel program. This trip has made me and the participants better advocates for Israel and stronger in our ability to support her,” Michael asserted.
For 10 days at the beginning of July, Joshua Offenhartz staffed a separate Birthright trip. This was his first time as a staffer but he had visited Israel three times before on USY, Hillel and Israeli Foreign Ministry sojourns. Joshua affirmed that sharing his passion for Israel with a group of young people encountering it for the first time was a life-changing opportunity. For many, this was their first chance not only to visit Israel but to experience a truly Jewish moment in their lives. Whether that first impression included the El-Al flight, Havdalah overlooking the Sea of Galilee, the six-day work week, or the friendly attitude of Israelis, Joshua knows that his Birthright group left with a new appreciation of how Judaism can be a part of their lives. Present during the violence, their group had just finished touring Yad Vashem when they were forced to take shelter due to rocket fire. After the all-clear signal, the group stood with Israeli visitors and shared a blessing of thanks. In this moment of terror, they were able to bridge the gap between American Jews and Israelis and come together as the single Jewish nation of Israel. Said Joshua, “While the trip may last 10 days, the impact will last a lifetime.”
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Michaela Davenport explored the Jewish homeland on Young Judaea’s Machon in Israel trip. A 17-year old Sabino High School senior, Michaela was the 2014 recipient of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s Rabbi Arthur R. Oleisky Teen Recognition Award of a $500 subsidy toward Israel travel.
The four-and-a-half week Machon program focused on leadership and experiential education. Venturing from Eilat to Tiberias “and everywhere in between,” Michaela conquered her fear of heights by rappelling down a cliff, saw exotic fish while snorkeling in Eilat, and experienced a whole new level of what discipline means during a week of Gadna (army training). She took in the beauty of Shabbat through discussions about identity and this “incredible, enriching” journey through the holy land. Friends became family, but having what felt like a typical Israel summer experience soon became anything but typical. On the day the Machon trip began, news broke that the three kidnapped boys had been murdered. As they looked out on the Jerusalem skyline from the Haas Promenade, their tour guide pointed out a white blimp in the sky, explaining that it indicated tension. She was referring to the riots taking place in East Jerusalem after the Arab boy, Abu Khdeir, had been murdered. Soon afterward, the group’s itinerary was altered, diverting them from the south to the north, and they were drilled on safety procedures during rocket-fire sirens, which they experienced.
Michaela stated: “This summer was so much different than I ever anticipated. I learned the power of asking questions and that it is not always about knowing the right answer, or having any answer at all for that matter. I am home from the experience of a lifetime with an immense love for Israel, knowledge, and my second family. I am a Zionist, and I am continually questioning.” (Michaela is presently serving on Young Judaea’s National Teen Leadership Board as national social action programmer.)
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Rotem Hayam and Gil Yanai served as summer camp counselors through the Jewish Agency for Israel at the Tucson Jewish Community Center’s Camp J. Both Israeli shlichot (emissaries) have completed their compulsory military duty. Rotem, 21, from Kiryat Tivon, was a sergeant in Israeli Navy Intelligence. Gil, 23, from Ram Or, also a sergeant and a non-commissioned officer of education, taught soldiers army values, gave tours and arranged lectures.
During the camp season, Rotem and Gil took turns interacting with the 8- to 9-year- olds while the other acted as Israeli culture specialist. Halfway through, they reversed roles. Both found it difficult to be away from home during Operation Protective Edge, yet kept in touch with family and friends in Israel. Gil was concerned for the welfare of her sister, 20, whose Israel Defense Forces unit was deployed close to Gaza.
Rotem and Gil voiced appreciation for their Tucson host families – Suzanne Baron Helming and Bruce Helming and Tamar and Eran Kugler.
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Elyse Pincus, 24, is currently in Israel as a Masa Israel Teaching Fellow. This 10-month fellowship aims to close the achievement gap in Israel’s educational system by placing college grads, ages 21-30, in schools to teach English.
Elyse, a 2008 Mountain View High School graduate and 2012 University of Arizona grad in speech and hearing sciences, traveled on Birthright in summer 2013 and knew she wanted to return to Israel. Previously, she was a pre-school teacher in the early childhood education program at the JCC. Elyse will be based in Rehovot, attend an ulpan to increase her Hebrew fluency, and volunteer in the community. We wish her a wonderful year ahead. May she go in peace and return in peace.
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Keep me posted — 319-1112. L’shalom.