Aidan Kahane, son of Elana and Josh Kahane, is a senior 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 cost of his NCSY JOLT program in Israel. All rising high school juniors and seniors in the Memphis Jewish community are eligible for grants up to $3,000 to attend a recognized teen summer or semester program in Israel. Teen Israel Experience applications for Summer 2022 are now available online. To learn more and apply, please click here.
Forging Connections to the Land of Israel
By: Aidan Kahane
What does Israel mean to me? Is it important to me? Am I supposed to have a connection to the land itself?
The above are all unanswered questions that I proceeded to ponder for the first half of my NCSY JOLT Israel experience. Before the pandemic, I was a frequent visitor of the country which allowed me to have familiarity with the language and the culture, but it sadly also caused me to lose appreciation for the land. As I traveled the land with other orthodox teens, with similar religious backgrounds, from across the country, I began to understand ideas that I could not at younger ages. Concepts pressed into my mind trip after trip finally resonated with me. I began to appreciate the land, not only for its fun activities and the people which inhabit it, but for the feeling of belonging which I only achieved over the summer.
NCSY JOLT Israel, the trip I was so fortunate to go on, was a five-week coed program focused on both touring and leadership training. We spent the first two weeks touring and hiking the country as a group, absorbing the culture, and creating unbreakable bonds of friendship which surely will last a lifetime. During the program’s third week, each participant was given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to run a camp for children whose siblings have chronic illnesses. At first, this concept seemed strange, as I initially thought all the focus should be shown directly to the sick children. Seeing the look of joy on a child’s face after saying hello to him caused me to realize the importance of this camp. These children have grown up living in the shadows of emergency hospital trips and sad glares from neighbors. All these kids grew up with the title of “the sick boy’s brother,” or “the sick boy’s sister.” This camp gave the children the opportunity to create a name for themself, an identity, and a sense of self-worth.
The last two weeks of the program flew by as we tried to fit as much as we could in such a short amount of time. Almost every day there were opportunities to go to night stories and to join night and early morning hikes. I took it upon myself to go to every single one of the optional events to truly reap every ounce of growth from the program. In the end, these optional night and early morning activities became my most inspirational moments, as they were the times I felt closest to the land beneath my feet. With every step we took and the mountains we climbed I gained a stronger feeling that this was my homeland, and this is where I belonged. JOLT Israel provided me with experiences and friendships that will last a lifetime, as well as a love and a connection to the land which I will carry with me for the remainder of high school, yeshiva, and into my adult life.
I am grateful to Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund for helping to make my NCSY summer program possible.