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IST Memories for the High Holidays

By Michelle Wildman and Amanda Ansell

This part is from Michelle:  L’shanah Tova!

Have you ever taken a picture of a beautiful place? And later on looked back at it and felt it doesn’t express the fun you had?

When people ask me about my trip, I normally respond by saying, it was fun or I had a nice time. So when I was asked to speak at Rosh HaShanah services, I wanted to share a little insight into how my trip actually unfolded.

Keep in mind I was in Israel for 4 weeks, and Poland for one week. That works out to 37 days. 37 days of action packed history and fun.

This is just ONE day.

7:00am- Breakfast… Imagine a great buffet with freshly made omelets, delicious melon and many different Israeli salads made with the freshest ingredients on a kibbutz. It’s always nice to start the mornings off with a nice meal and a nice company of 66 friends.

8:00 am- Time for a bus ride! Our first stop is the Naot factory! For you non-shopaholics, they are a “cool” leather sandal that is similar to a Birkenstock. For those of you who wonder if Colorado supports the Israeli economy, this 30 minute stop by 67 teens set a record.

10:00 am- off to Tal Hai. Here, an early battle for independence for the state of Israel was fought. There were only few people to fight off others from invading Israel, the holy land. This was especially interesting to me because without these early Zionists, the northern border would not exist. Additionally, Tal Hai is still standing which is a tribute to Israel as a superior state. Even when the Ottoman Empire, the British, and the Arabs outnumbered us, we still prevailed.

12 pm- Lunch in a Druze village. While we were in Israel learning about Jewish heritage and culture, we also experienced other religion’s traditions. In the Druze village, we learned about the differences between the religions. What I found interesting is that they also serve in the IDF and see Israel as their homeland. Learning about their culture opened my eyes up to the idea that not only are the 4 main religions in Israel, there is also many branches and smaller sects of these religions. In the lunch they prepared for us, we had traditional Druze cooking. This included meats prepared in a delicious red sauce, a large array of special salads and, of course lafa.

3:00- off to a river “rafting adventure” down the Jordan. When we all got off the bus we were told that we could either go in “canoes” or “rafts,” so my friend Marissa and I picked a canoe- we had almost no knowledge of how to paddle ESPECIALLY on rapids. While we were a little worried we got into the canoe and were rolled into the river. This “rafting trip” on the Jordan turned into a float trip. At first, we thought, “What are we going to do for an hour or so on a calm river,” and then…. 4 boats of Israeli soldiers appeared. We thought it was a dream, until one jumped onto our boat! (We have picture proof). Along with us, they were extremely happy to see someone else on the river to hang out with.

This was another lesson I learned in Israel: Regardless if you are old friends, or new acquaintances like these soldiers, you are treated like family. Many of us here have been on a raft trip in Colorado where there are real rapids, but when you see another boat normally, you might splash them, if anything. In this instance in Israel, it was more like we had reunited with old friends. While Israelis might be seen to have a rough exterior, they all seem to have a bond with each other and an interest helping each other.

I can say that I learned many small lessons that now reflect into my daily life. Treat others as friends, not strangers, defend what YOU think is important, and see others cultures not as dissimilar but as diverse. These three lessons were only taken from ONE day of the trip- just imagine how many I have from 37 days. So to say the least about my trip, I had a great experience, and can’t wait to go back!

Shanah Tova u’metukah

This part is from Amanda:

As I lugged my giant suitcase up a huge slope, I wondered what exactly I had gotten myself into. I was exhausted and didn’t feel like dodging tourists in a marketplace set on this never-ending hill. I was in Tzfat, this beautiful city in Israel, on the greatest trip on my lifetime. This trip, named IST (Israel Study Tour) was for Jewish teens. 67 of us from the Boulder/Denver area were on this trip for a total of five weeks.

One of those weeks was dedicated to an “options week.” I had chosen the community service option. I ignored the comments of friends, family, and my peers on the trip, being called weak for avoiding the other options like a three-day army stimulation or hiking across the desert. As I dragged my suitcase farther up, I contemplated my choice, wondering if I had made the right one, especially when I found out we were going on a 5 hour hike that afternoon, the very thing I was trying to avoid.

I barely survived the hike, the hot sun beating down on us. I was anxious to see what other sorts of “activities” they would have us do. We did many activities to assist the local community, from painting a school to helping fix up a national park. Those were all great, but when we went to a senior citizen home it meant the most to me.

We helped fix it up the outside, painting walls and curbs, putting metal flowers on fences. This was significant to them but what really impacted me was the people on the inside of the home. After we were finished with our jobs we had the opportunity to talk to some of the residents. There was a great language barrier between us, but you could see how much they loved having us there by their joyful and brightened expressions. I never have seen such pure delight on a person’s face, the proof of our mitzvah, or that good deed was evident. They talked, and we listened. Whether we could understand what they said or not, I could tell that they took pleasure in having someone to listen to them speak. It really changed how I thought about the world, and people.

Little things make all the difference. I’ll always treasure the time I spent with these people because they taught me a great lesson. They may have not spoken the same language as I, but they taught me that the language of human contact is all I needed.

Editor’s Note: Boulder Jewish News encourages teens to share their Jewish travel and mitzvah experiences with the community. Click here to see the archive of photos Michelle sent during the trip. Thanks, Michelle and Amanda!

About Michelle Wildman

Michelle Wildman

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