Friday, July 10, 2015

This is what Jewish identity building looks like: Teens donning t-shirts that say “Proud to be Jewish”, “Super Jew”, “I Love Israel”, and more; beautiful chai, Star of David and hamsa necklaces in full view for all to see; and boys proudly wearing kipot (yarmulkas) in public. Teens are feeling the love of our Jewish Family, and they love the feeling of belonging. Even the most reserved of them are excited to share what this Israel experience means to them.

Wow, was yesterday a full and wonderful day! We were welcome to Yerushalyim (Jerusalem) with the sounds of the trumpet and the blasts of the shofar; with drums, dancing and songs. Immediately our feet jumped into action, propelling us to the promenade for a joyous horah. Around and around we went, as one, dancing with joy of being in Yerushalyim. The backdrop was magnificent as you will see in the pictures. The Old City in full view, the picture of Yerushalyim your children many have seen in the Hebrew School books.   Teens loved it!   We danced, sang, and finally we were ready for our very special “shehheh-cheh-yanu” moment—an opportunity to thank God for reaching this most special occasion.

Following our Welcome to Jerusalem celebration, we descended deep underground for an incredible and wet walk in Hezekiah’s Water Tunnels. FUN! All the while, teens were learning about the importance of the water tunnel in ancient times.

Teens had plenty of time to mingle before, during and after lunch, which we enjoyed in a nearby park. Times like these are important for teens to get to know each other better and to meet as many teens as possible. I love it when they tell me how happy they are to meet new friends from cities in our community they would have never met if not for Y2I. This is one of the special benefits of traveling together as a community. It truly does make our community stronger.

After lunch we headed for the much anticipated tour of the Old City, that special spot on earth that is in the heart of Jews the world over, and which has been for centuries. The visit to the Wall (Kotel) was a powerful and an emotional one for many teens. Some boys told stories about putting tefillin on at the Wall, and how they felt so connected to everyone before them by performing this ancient ritual. Some of the girls said how touching the Wall was a dream come true and that the sudden flow of tears, from merely touching the stones, surprised them. It was a moving pilgrimage for most, a definite transformational experience for many.

The second tunnel tour of the day was the Western Wall Tunnels tour, which was amazing, adding a depth to the Wall that is unseen at ground level. Teens really enjoyed the tour of the tunnels, sparking the question “Just how did they do that?”

After a very full day, I was impressed how much juice teens had left in them. Yet, our evening’s program was an important one. They re-charged over dinner, and then blew me away by what followed.

We had our first-ever Stand With Us Israel Advocacy workshop in Israel. We are fortunate to have two Stand With us High School Interns on the trip: Andrew Jacobson (2013 Y2I) and Ben Alvarez-Dobrusin (2014 Y2I). Also joining us is Olivia Hazlett (2014 Y2I). In total, three extraordinary and committed Y2I alumni who have assumed leadership roles in our Israel Advocacy programs for teens and in Jewish teen programming on the North Shore. They have specific roles throughout the trip, focusing on inspiring and educating teens about Israel advocacy. Stand With Us high School Interns go through intensive Israel advocacy training with other teens from around the country. Lappin Foundation funds free Israel Advocacy training for all Jewish teens on the North Shore, and it is very much a teen-facilitated initiative.

Israel Advocacy Training for Teens is important because of the rise in anti-Israel and anti-Jewish activities on college campuses. Our teens are so fortunate to have the Israel experience during their teen years, followed by Israel Advocacy training for up to two years before they go to college. This approach will prepare them to deal effectively with anti-Israel and anti-Jewish activities in academia.

Teens embraced the workshop last night and totally invested themselves in it. They were engaged and responsive, even at the late hour after a long day. More importantly, is that they are excited to serve as Israel advocates after the trip. This is a success!

We have two more workshops during the trip and a more intensive program when we return. Please encourage and support their interest in learning more about how to effectively stand up for Israel. I am sure they will be excited to share with you what they have learned. It is great that Israel Advocacy has become part of their vocabulary.

These updates bring us to 9:15 p.m., the time when most groups would call it a night. But, your kids kept going. What a hearty bunch! They engaged in small group discussions led by the three Israel Advocacy interns. I walked from group to group, amazed and deeply moved by what I heard. They discussed how Y2I was more than just a trip; and many were specific about what was the life-changing moment for them. I heard how powerful it was for them to be part of the majority for the first time, and how that made them feel connected to our Jewish Family. The discussions lasted more than a half hour, giving teens plenty of time to talk and process what they are experiencing. Imagine, that was only after being in Israel for three and a half days.

This morning’s presentation by Doron Kornbluth, author and motivational speaker, was another great one. Doron’s talk focused on answering the question “Why be Jewish?”, which was enlightening for teens. He explained that their decision to stay Jewish and raise their children Jewish, or not, will have lasting and profound effects on our People.

To summarize Doron’s talk, we should be incredibly proud to be Jewish for many reasons, and he focused on the following three:

  1. Our incredible survival, against all odds.
  2. Our incredible and numerouss contributions to the world, beginning with ethical monotheism and including achievements in every field of human endeavor. Despite our small numbers as a People, less than one-quarter of one percent of the world’s population, Jews have been awarded about 1/3 of all Nobel Prizes. As Mark Twain asked, “What is the secret of the Jews?”
  3. The miraculous re-birth of the Land of Israel. Honestly, if you have not been to Israel yet, you must do so at least once in your lifetime. Jews are the only people to ever return to a homeland, and we have done it successfully. Yes, Israel is not perfect and Israel has problems, just as every country has. But, Israel strives to do better and be better, and her existence is proof.

Teens got the idea that being Jewish is being part of something special, magical and huge. We are a small Family with a very big story, and every 2015 Y2I teen is part of that story

Following Doron’s lecture we enjoyed a beautiful nature hike at the Sataf, and then on to Machane Yehudah, the market!  It was loud, crowded, high-energy, delicious and much, much more!

Now we are enjoying a few hours of rest; time to hang out with friends, nap or enjoy the pool. Soon we will get ready for what will truly be the Shabbat of a lifetime, which we will share with thousands of Jews from Israel and from around the world at the Kotel, the Western Wall. I am so excited for your children!

Tomorrow we will visit the Israel Museum and see the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the afternoon we have another presentation with Stand With Us, followed by time to relax. Then it’s on to Ben Yehudah Street in the evening, after Shabbat, to shop and enjoy a fun Saturday night!

We depart Jerusalem early Sunday morning for the desert. Twenty Israeli teens will join us on Sunday for four days. What an experience that will be!

You will hear from me again after our visit to the desert. So, stay tuned and keep looking at the pictures.

Wishing everyone a beautiful Shabbat Shalom from all of us!

With love from Jerusalem,

Debbie Coltin