We kvell at how a High School semester in Israel can transform a teen’s life. That’s why Congregation Or Ami encourages our teens to consider spending extended time in Israel, especially on NFTY-EIE Semester in Israel. Teen Rockey Greenberg reflects upon her experience:
Dear Rabbi Paul,
Thank you so much for all of the support you have given me this past year in helping me reach my goal of spending a semester in Israel. As you know, I had an amazing experience unlike any other on NFTY-Eisendrath International Exchange. Not once have I, or will I, regret having gone on this program. Thank you again.
Over a year ago, a series of online searches led me to find that programs in Israel existed for students like me in high school. Then, at the end of January, I stood in New York’s JFK airport surrounded by 72 other Jewish teens ready to board an El Al flight to Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv. I was a terrified, shy sophomore, and it seemed like everyone else knew one another. Yet, in another four months after that, I left Israel with more Jewish knowledge and more amazing experiences than I thought I would ever have. I had made lifelong friends and only wish that I was able to stay longer.
To say the NFTY-EIE program changed my life would be an understatement. The four months I spent in Israel were the happiest times of my life so far.
My program centered around studying Jewish History and Hebrew and taking tiyulim (trips) around Israel. The semester of Jewish history started with our class reading from the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and ended with exploring present day issues in Israel. Likewise, the trips we went on usually corresponded with the events we were learning about in class.
NFTY-EIE included several major tiyulim, like climbing Masada, enduring a four day long army program called Gadna, and Yam l’Yam (Sea to Sea) where the 73 of us hiked from the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee in the east) to the Mediterranean in the west. Often, we visited Jerusalem and the Kotel, or the shuk (open air market) in Tel Aviv. One day, on a trip to the shuk, we were required to speak only in Hebrew and buy items off of a grocery list to eat at a picnic. On another day, we drove to the Belvoir Crusader Fortress where I was chosen to be our class’s “battering ram.”
Our Trip to Poland
The one trip I can’t get out of my mind, however, was our five-day experience in Poland in March. We started in Warsaw and worked our way through cities as we learned about the Holocaust. In Lublin, Poland, we stood in the Majdanek death camp as my friends and I recited the Mourner’s Kaddish together. That was the day that I decided that perhaps one day I could live in Israel.
Gaining Fluency in Hebrew
Having spent four months immersed in the Hebrew language, I went from knowing only what shalom meant to having the ability to communicate fairly well with Israelis in Hebrew. We had Hebrew Ulpan classes everyday and on every excursion we had the opportunity to speak rak b’ivrit (only in Hebrew). Now that I am home, I am looking into continuing my classes in the Hebrew language.
Before EIE, I had never been to Israel, but I learned quickly how much a person can love a country. I had honestly never felt so at home than I was in Israel and I fell in love with Israeli culture and the people…
To put it simply, I believe that my experience in Israel taught me how to be happy and that there’s nothing I want more than to continue my life in the Jewish homeland.
Now, I’m at home in California, and everything is different. I am adjusted to being at home now, waking up without roommates, and having no Kibbutz to explore or a tel (archeological dig) to walk to in the evenings. I am holding tight to all of the memories that I made this past semester and I will forever remember the feelings that Israel gave to me and the joy I felt with every step I took on her land.
I can’t wait until my next opportunity to return to Israel and, until then, I will be reminiscing and creating new memories in my own Jewish community.
Thank you and Congregation Or Ami again for helping make this experience possible.
Consider a summer, semester, or a year in Israel. In addition to NFTY EIE, NFTY in Israel offers so many different kinds of teen programs in Israel.