We’re marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel with a year-long celebration! Keep an eye out for “Memphis Celebrates Israel at 70” branding at your synagogue, at events around town, and online. In this series, we’re asking Memphians to tell their personal Israel stories. Do you have a story to tell?
During this past summer, I participated in NCSY Kollel, a program based about 30 minutes west of Jerusalem, in Moshav Beit Meir. The program itself was different from many other summer programs in Israel. Instead of touring the country for the majority of the summer, we mainly stayed in the moshav and occupied our schedule with Torah learning and other activities, like basketball and swimming.
Since it was a large program (257 participants, to be exact), there was a wide selection of talented ball players, which really allowed for intense and exciting games. However, this intensity was matched equally by the Torah learning, which was both meaningful and engaging.
Although the majority of our time was spent on Torah and sports, we did take several trips to go out and experience the wonders the land has to offer. These trips were quite inspiring and produced some of the highlights of my summer. Overall, the well-balanced mixture of activities and trips created an unforgettable experience.
Although the entire program was invigorating, perhaps the most meaningful aspect of the summer was that we were learning Torah in the land of Israel. As a matter of fact, the Gemara in the masechet (tractate) of Nadarim states that the reason for the destruction of the Second Temple was that the Jews were not reciting the blessing which one must make before learning Torah. The Ran, a commentary on the Talmud, interprets this Gemara to mean that the Torah was not important in the eyes of the Jews and they didn’t value the Torah, so for that reason we lost the Temple. Therefore, to return back to the land where we made this error so long ago and to study the Torah with passion and joy, really made this Israel experience into one for the ages.
However, it could not have been accomplished without the counselors and Rabbis employed at the program. Not only was each one of them a Torah scholar in his own right, but they also all knew how to connect with the participants and infuse the learning with energy and excitement. Therefore, each shiur or chabura given by these leaders was really an experience in and of itself and allowed for unparalleled memories to be created.
Though numerous people have said so since even before the Jews first settled the land, Israel truly is a land unlike any other. Our people have such a connection to the land that literally every square inch has great significance to us, regardless of our understanding as to why. Therefore, to spend a solid six weeks in Israel was unbelievable.
What many of us fail to realize is that just being able to enter into the land of Israel is itself a miracle. If we were to explain to our ancestors that Israel for us is just 12 hours away, they would laugh at the idea. Especially during the times of the Holocaust, it would have been impossible to imagine that one day the Jews would recapture the land of Israel and be able to live there to practice Judaism freely and with passion. The opportunity for me to spend my summer in Israel was truly a gift, and I look forward to returning soon.
Yisrael Wiener, the son of Rivki and Hillel Wiener, is a junior at Cooper Yeshiva High School for Boys. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided him with a Teen Israel Experience grant to help offset the costs of his NCSY program in Israel. All rising juniors and seniors in the Memphis Jewish community are eligible for grants of up to $3000 to attend a recognized teen summer program in Israel. Teen Israel Experience applications for summer 2018 are available on our website.