Each year, Memphis Jewish Federation provides a travel subsidy from the Lemsky Endowment Fund for students making the Bornblum Jewish Community School 8th Grade Trip to Israel. About ten students make the journey each year and return to Memphis with tangible personal connections to Israel. In this series, we’ll publish the letters this year’s travelers wrote the Federation thanking us for the opportunity to make this special pilgrimage.
Dear Memphis Jewish Federation,
On the Eighth-Grade Israel trip, my life was changed both mentally and spiritually. Not only did I tour the most amazing place with the most amazing people, but I found a place where I could be completely happy with no worries. We did almost everything there is to do in Israel, and had an amazing bonding experience while touring. I made new lifetime friends that were very nice and welcoming. Every day was full of fun, adventures, and joy. There was not one part of the trip that I did not enjoy.
The first time we went to the Western Wall, I felt connected spiritually and that I could pray with full content. The next time we went on a Friday night, and it was exciting to see all of the men dancing and singing loudly.
Although all the places we saw were incredible, a few of the activities we did stood out. Some of these include the rafting in the Jordan River, swimming in the Kineret, enjoying the scenery on the party boat while dancing with my friends. Hiking Masada and touring Hezekiah’s Tunnels. It was so nice to step out of the bus the first day we arrived and have the two other groups run to greet us. After a couple of days, I had met and bonded with a lot of the other kids and tried to talk with them.
All the hikes were not ordinary hikes that you take every day. These hikes were ones that you do once in your life because they are so beautiful and unique. The nature and environment is like nothing you’ve ever seen before, and you feel like you’re in a different world.
The first full day was a great start to a journey of a lifetime. We toured Hezekiah’s Tunnels and felt the cold water on our legs. We turned off all the flashlights at one point and it was pitch black. When we got out, there was a pool that we went in and took pictures in front of it. Then we went to a sifting project that was unique and unlike anything I’ve ever done. We found pieces of pottery and bones that will help the sifters put pieces together. We then ventured to the Western Wall. I wanted to use this time to appreciate the fact that I was in Israel. I had been waiting for this moment for eight whole years and it was finally here! After saying our prayers, we went underground for a tour of the Western Wall tunnels. I had seen these once before, but the first time was nothing compared to this. We walked as a group through the Most Holy place and it was such a neat experience. Then we made our way back to the bus and hung out and bonded at night.
The next day was very solemn and emotional for everyone. We started our day at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, which hit me very hard. I had been to a Holocaust Museum before, but it didn’t come remotely close to this one. From the design to the memorial, everything about the museum touched my heart. Then we went to Mount Herzl and the Herzl Museum, and saw many Israeli soldiers. When I saw those soldiers standing above their friend’s or loved one’s graves, saluting to them with a strong look on their faces, I felt speechless.
The next day we stayed at the Kfar Hanokdim Bedouin Tents. This was an extremely different experience, but I enjoyed it very much. We made a drum circle and really got a chance to bond with the other kids. We made a fire and explored the rest of the area. I tried to get some sleep because we would have to wake up at four in the morning to climb Masada for sunrise.
When we climbed Masada and saw the stunning sunrise at the top, it was worth the wait of eight years. After seeing pictures and hearing about this sight from the previous eighth graders, I saw it for myself. It was beyond gorgeous. After taking pictures and walking around on the top, we started for the bottom. Stair-after-stair, I made my way down the enormous mount. It took a while, but when we made it down, I felt that I had accomplished something great.
We went to the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth, and had a fun time there with the mud. It was an interesting sight to see, with all the different people, and I enjoyed my time there. We then made our way back to Jerusalem to prepare for Shabbat. We went to the Western Wall, and we were consumed in a world of dancing, singing, and praying. We looked over to the boys’ side, and I saw the men jumping up and down excitedly, while singing at the top of their lungs. We danced with the girls there and formed a circle while singing. Then I went up close to the Western Wall and prayed.
On Sunday night, after just having checked in to the Kibbutz Lavi Hotel, we went to a Memorial Day Ceremony. This was one of the most emotional nights of the trip because of what everyone heard, saw, and understood. We saw bunches of people there who must have suffered much having lost a loved one. We sang Hatikvah and stood solemnly while we listened to the siren. Afterwards, we had a circle expressing how we felt about this holiday. During this circle, tears were shed from many students.
Day Ten was amazing because we went rafting on the Jordan River. This was one of the best activities we did, and I enjoyed every second of it. We saw the river, the greenery, and the people surrounding us. The next activity that stood out above the rest was swimming in the Kineret. I’ll admit it—I was very apprehensive to go swimming at first. But then, after my friends and teachers pulled me in, I did not regret it. I swam with a friend and we relaxed in the cool, refreshing water. We had fun, and the background was wonderful. There was the soft sunset with mountains and calm water. After we got out, we went on a party boat and sang and danced with the other girls.
The host Shabbat was amazing as well. I stayed with my teacher and my friend, and we were in a part of Israel I had never seen before. We went to the Mediterranean Sea and watched the sunset. We saw the cities of Ashdod and Gan Yavne, and it was a unique experience.
When the day came to leave, I couldn’t stop crying. My life was seriously changed by this experience! I can honestly say with all my heart that these were the best days of my life. I cannot thank you enough for granting me this adventure of a lifetime. I would do anything to get this again because I feel like a different person having experienced it. Thank you beyond words.