Monday, July 13, 2015

Days of Highs and Lows

The past few days have been incredible!

One of the highest experiences so far was our visit to the Kotel, the Western Wall on Friday night. Friday night at the Kotel was unlike anything they have ever experienced, according to many of the teens. Many said there are no words to describe the experience or explain what it meant to them, each in his or her own way. Visiting the Kotel on Shabbat Eve is something one has to experience for one’s self to comprehend it. It was an evening full of emotion, joy and an overwhelming feeling of belonging to the Jewish People. We saw all types of Jews, from ultra religious to secular and all kinds in between. Kids saw for themselves what Jerusalem of Gold looks like, as the sun was setting over this most holy city. They will do a far better job sharing the experience with you. Perhaps you will ask them on their first Shabbat home, which will be on Friday, the day we return, “How did you celebrate last Shabbat evening in Jerusalem? What was it like at the Wall? What did you see? How did you feel?” They may be flooded by emotions and memories; and for sure they will be exhausted. Please be patient. Details will come when they are ready to talk.

Teens began to process their experiences at the Wall during our two-mile Shabbat walk back to the hotel. This was a great time for them to share with each other and with counselors what they were feeling and to ask many questions they had about what they saw. It was truly a memorable Shabbat for everyone, and especially life-changing for some.

We had a much-appreciated late wake up on Shabbat, and the day was filled with a visit to the Israel Museum to see the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls, followed by an afternoon of small group activities, pool, visits with family and friends and rest. Teens had tons of fun on Saturday night strolling and shopping on Ben Yehudah St., and many of you will be the lucky recipients of beautiful gifts they bought. Teens put a lot of thought into selecting just the right gift for families and friends. It’s their special way of sharing Israel with you.

Yesterday 22 high-spirited Israeli teens joined us for our four day mifgash (encounter), we made our way south to the desert. We arrived late afternoon at a Bedouin camp ground, where we began our stay with camel and donkey rides, followed by a traditional Bedouin feast, drumming circle, bonfire, and finally the night in the million-star hotel (sitting outside the Bedouin tent—just look up at the sky to see millions of stars!). All the while teens organized getting-to-know-you activities, singing, dancing and more. What a fantastic day! The chemistry between American and Israeli teens is positive and teens are getting along very well.

A few comments about the Israeli teens. This is called a mifgash, an encounter, and it is an important part of the Y2I experience. The mifgash gives all teens, American and Israeli, the chance to learn about Israel and American Jewry on a very personal level. Within minutes of the Israeli teens joining us, teens were becoming fast friends, many of whom will last a long, long time.   They quickly discovered what they had in common, and they soon learned about some differences. For example, Israeli teens are preparing for the mandatory military service, which will begin as soon as they graduate from high school. American teens are preparing for their college years. There was a lot of discussion amongst the group around this pretty profound difference.

We woke up very early to climb Mt. Masada to witness the dawning of a new day. Truly unbelievable! The story of Masada itself is also truly an unbelievable one, and to actually be able to visit the site, made history come alive in a way no book or movie could ever do. We made our way off the mountain walking down the snake path (no snakes; the path itself snakes down the mountain), which is a walk unlike any other. With the Dead Sea in full view, it’s a walk teens will always remember. What an accomplishment to climb up and down a mountain in the same morning!

Then it was on to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth! FUN, FUN, FUN! Floating on the sea is surreal. I think it is the only place on earth you can do this (but not sure…). We spent a few hours at a spa resort on the shores of the Dead Sea, where we had the full hot Dead Sea experience, a refreshing pool to cool off in, and a delicious lunch buffet. The ride back to our next hotel, Neve Ilan, was a quiet one full of two buses of sleeping teens.

All of the teens are connecting beautifully, and the mifgash is helping to make our Jewish Family stronger.

This evening we will meet with Tslila and Hadassah Bau for a presentation about Josef Bau, their father, who was a Holocaust survivor, artist, and more. Josef Bau’s story is inspirational and fascinating, one which teens will enjoy hearing. If you saw the movie Schindler’s List, you may know a bit about Josef Bau. He and his wife were the ones depicted in the movie who got married while in the concentration camp. Your kids can tell you much more about Joseph Bau’s story.

There are Holocaust survivors staying at our hotel, affording teens an extraordinary opportunity to speak with them. I encouraged them to do so during our stay. In years to come, conversations they had with survivors will become even more precious as the generation of living Holocaust survivors comes to an end.

There are only three short days left for our stay in Israel, and we have a lot planned.

Your children are happy, healthy and having the time of their lives!

Sending lots of love your way from your kids,

Debbie Coltin