Alex Rochkind, the daughter of Leslie and Bill Rochkind, is an 11th grade student at Lausanne Collegiate School. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided her with a Teen Israel Experience grant to help offset the costs of her Summer 2019 BBYO 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 or semester program in Israel. Teen Israel Experience applications for summer 2020 are available at www.jcpmemphis.smapply.org.
Last summer, I decided to go to Israel on a BBYO Passport program. Ever since I learned about Israel and its existence, I knew I wanted to go someday and learn about the roots of my people. I was fascinated by the geography, culture, food, and of course the history behind it all. From the minute I stepped off the EL-AL plane at Ben Gurion Airport, I fell in love.
Not only was the country beautiful, with its incredible sunsets, seas, and deserts, but also, its Jewish atmosphere was breathtaking. The way Jews walked so freely and with so much pride in their identities was something I have never witnessed back home in Memphis. I could feel the connection I had with strangers, because we were Jews who understood the struggles our people have faced in the past and even now in the present.
In the final days of the trip, my 44 new friends and I sat down for a seminar with a speaker who explained the Israel-Palestine conflict to us. This history was fascinating to me, but there was one thing in particular, which he said at the end of his presentation, that I’ll remember forever.
He said, “When you go back home to America, I hope you are less Jewish.” I looked around the room and saw confusion on everyone’s faces. Aren’t we supposed to be more Jewish? I thought. He later went on to confirm my original thought– yes, of course you are supposed to be Jewish.
But what he wanted us to take away from this was that Judaism is the only religion that is written with an “ish” at the end of its name. It’s a religion whose people have been the scapegoat for global problems, their identities a target throughout history by those who wish to destroy us. I related heavily to this, as there are often times when I’m scared to be outspoken about my Judaism because I don’t know how others will react.
This moment was when my mindset went from usually suppressing my Jewish identity to realizing how special and important it is to me.
Without my visit to Israel this summer, my connection to Judaism and the country would not be nearly as strong. I am so grateful to have gone on such an incredible trip that I will look back on and cherish forever.
The effect of spending a month in a place where Jews aren’t the minority had a greater effect on me than I could have ever imagined. I can’t thank Memphis Jewish Federation enough for giving me this opportunity, and I can’t wait to go back to Israel one day.