Tuesday, July 7, 2015

It is early morning in Israel, 2:30 a.m., and I am writing from Kibbutz Ha-On, on the shores of beautiful Lake Kinerret (a.k.a. the Sea of Galilee). I caught a few winks after our exciting, but long journey to Israel, and I am excited to share our first two days of 2015 Y2I.

Our non-stop flight on El Al was great, not to mention convenient. Leaving from Boston at night and arriving in Israel at the bustling Ben Gurion Airport mid-afternoon was fantastic! Teens got to know each other during the flight, where the start of many new friendships took place. Our group is a lively bunch, open to meeting each other and to trying new things. It was heartwarming to see dozens of teens, up and about during the flight, talking, laughing and really enjoying themselves. Not to worry—they were considerate of others who were on our flight.

Our warm and exuberant Israeli Y2I team greeted us with open arms. Every teen was greeted with a handshake and a heartfelt “Welcome Home” from Amnon Weigler, CEO of Shony Travel, as soon as they walked into baggage claim. The smiles on their faces were priceless, expressing a feeling of “wow” and “cool”, this is something special. Our passionate tour guides Ron and Menash, and their blue bus and white bus crew of drivers and security guards were excited to greet us and to have us begin our long-awaited 2015 Y2I adventure.

We arrived at Kibbutz Ha-On a bit after 6:30 p.m., and the first thing we did was to enjoy a delicious dinner. Then, we grabbed our bathing suits and headed for a refreshing and fun evening swim at a nearby outdoor pool, in the warm and breezy Kinerret air. It was the perfect day to end our jtraveling and to re-charge for what awaits us.

Teens loved being outdoors. The sky was crystal clear, and Venus and Mars (I think I named these correctly) in perfect view. They swam, talked, enjoyed ice cream and spent time making friends and getting to know each other better. By 11 p.m. we were all ready for bed!

Before we called it a day, we had a group meeting to let everyone know what is in store for tomorrow. This is standard procedure for Y2I.

During the meeting we had a few minutes to talk about the first activity, one of six, teens will do throughout the trip as part of Israel advocacy education and training, which will help them step up for Israel (more about this to come). The first activity was to ask an Israeli (at the airport or anytime during our first day in Israel) two questions: (1) What makes you most proud of Israel? and (2) What do you think is Israel’s biggest challenge? Teens embraced this assignment as an opportunity to meet and to talk to Israelis. Answers they got were important and will serve as triggers for our smaller group discussions. Teens were not shy about sharing with our group some of the answers they got. One teen reported that the Israeli he spoke to said that what made him most proud of Israel is that Israel is a beacon of light to the world. Another teen learned from the person with whom she spoke believed that survival was Israel’s biggest challenge. These short conversations and encounters are important learning experiences that will help teens to stand up for Israel.

Today we have a very full day, including a trip to the top of Mt. Bental, where we will look into Syria (not to worry, please) and learn about rich Israel’s history and about the Golan Heights, including its strategic importance to Israel’s safety and security. Then we move on to Kfar Blum for an afternoon of kayaking or easy-rafting on the Jordan River, only to be followed by more fun as we enjoy a boat ride on the Kinerret, dancing included! Imagine, we will do all of this before dinner!

After dinner at the kibbutz, we will go on an illumination night tour of Beit Sh’ean. What a day we will have!

Your kids are well, having fun, and are very excited for what tomorrow and every day after that will bring.

On behalf of 2015 Y2I, with love from the shores of Lake Kinerret, Israel,

Debbie Coltin