“Hi I’m Jake, I am a Reform Jew.  I’m from Brookline, which is right outside of Boston and I have never been to Israel before.”  Before leaving for Israel, I had prepared this introduction.  And yet upon arriving and entering into my Kehillah, I never needed it.

I traveled on Nesiya, a program whose name means “journey” in Hebrew.  There is no better word to describe it.  Living with a group of Israeli and American teens from different religious and socio-economic backgrounds, no one was interested in merely the superficial. When I look back on my experiences, I often ask myself “Why does my face instantly fill with a smile when I think about Nesiya?  What is it about the friendships on Nesiya that make them stronger?  Why am I never too tired to do something for Nesiya?” 

Then I remember why.  Nesiya, more than anything else, brings out a special and valuable way of seeing and interacting with the world.  Through living with Israeli peers, my perspective on the world changed.

At the outset, 34 very different individuals are pitted into the barren, yet beautiful environment Negev desert.  There was nothing to fill the time with other than conversations and my own thoughts.  Between steps in the sand and gusts of the nighttime winds, the foundation for these close friendships, our community, formed.

When we left the desert our group understood each other.  We knew that despite our different lifestyles, religious and political opinions, we would be there for each other. This was more than just a comforting notion; it empowered us to go out into Israel and challenge each other, our own ideas and the world.  We spent three days with Bedouin Arab teens in Rahat. No we did not solve the Israeli-Arab Conflict, but the process speaks to Nesiya’s impact.  During the time, I got angry with my closest friends, smiled at a joke that had just been repeated through three languages and wanted to cry.

This range of emotions defined my experience living with Israeli peers.  Rather than feeling like a tourist, I experienced firsthand the disagreement, intolerance, hate and love that run rampant throughout the region.  I left with something much stronger than a memory of this experience. 

Understanding is the first step to changing perspective.  Since I lived with future soldiers, ultra orthodox teens, fellow reform jews and Ethiopian immigrants, at times I felt like my beliefs were wrong, succumbing to challenges from left and from right.  But all the time I was adopting this process of experiencing true Israel in order to understand the nation and its people.  After volunteering for three days a shelter for children, I was handed a shirt, which reads, “I love Israel.”  And love it I do.  I love the way it fosters my own desire to challenge myself and my beliefs, the way I can challenge Israel and the unconditional passion I have for Israel and the happiness it brings out in people.

For more information about Nesiya and other programs for teenagers to travel to Israel, join us at the Boston Israel Programs Fair on February 12, 2012 from 1-3 PM at Hebrew College.

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