Beauty and Antiquity in a Holy Place
-By Daniel Slovis
I was lucky– six weeks is a long time for a first visit to the Jewish Holy Land, and it was just the right amount of time for me to have a completely life-changing experience.
I never expected to have such a fulfilling Israel trip. I know everyone talks about how it was “the best experience of their life” or “nothing could ever compare to the feeling you have when you land in Israel”, but I was skeptical at first. I had heard so many exciting things about so many different trips to Israel, but I didn’t want to believe anyone until I got to experience it for myself.
The thing is, everyone was exactly right! Nothing could compare to my trip to Israel. The Ramah Israel organization put together an incredible summer. No matter where I went or what I did, I felt at home.
The long and grueling plane ride everyone complains about really wasn’t so bad for me. When we landed and everyone started clapping, I felt a small rush of excitement and a big rush of nervousness. I didn’t know what to expect. I could barely speak Hebrew, and I knew absolutely no one on that plane. But the nerves and loneliness I felt walking through the giant Ben-Gurion airport didn’t last long. I got my bag and found the Ramah group, and just like that I was on my way to a once in a lifetime journey.
Finally, I found my camp friends, the people I’ve known for seven years. We’ve all been dreaming about taking this trip since just about the first days of camp seven years ago. Along with all of my old friends, I met new friends, people from all over the U.S. and Canada who went to other Ramah camps. Just getting to know everyone was an interesting experience, learning about their different camp cultures and customs and lingo. At school, anthropology is one of my favorite classes, so being able to watch and learn about all these new cultures in the backdrop of a new country was a fascinating experience for me.
Our trip started in the north of Israel and ended in the south. Unlike many of my friends, I had never been to Israel before, so no matter where we went, I was blown away. Climbing mountains, touring historic sites, and learning so much about my own culture was just incredible. I think I learned more about Judaism in those six weeks than I had in my entire life! When we reached the heart of Jerusalem, our bus stopped at a small park that overlooks the entire city, and at first glance I was mesmerized. Our group all got together to say the shehechiyanu blessing, and I felt a rush of love and a feeling of being at home.
We did so much, I wish I could write about everything, but that could turn into a novel! So I will just briefly share two of my favorite experiences from the trip. The first was at the Western Wall. I had never in my life experienced anything like it. The instant feeling of knowing that everyone who surrounds me is a Jew just like me, and knowing that the place where I was standing is one of the holiest and most historically meaningful sites I will ever see— that made my head spin. The part that impressed me the most was that it felt like an affirmation of all of the stories I was told growing up, almost like proof that everything I had learned about actually happened. I was stunned by the beauty and antiquity of this holy place.
My other favorite experience was a program called Desert Survival. Desert Survival was a four day, three night journey wandering through the Negev, climbing up and down mountains and through rough terrains. The thing about Ramah is that when you go on camping trips at camp, you can tell they are very controlled environments and almost fake, but this was completely different. It was real, we were actually on a survival program in a real desert, and that’s why I loved it so much. The best part of this journey in the Negev was when my group of 5 started walking down a very long dirt road to get to our second base camp. At one point, my group started to get on my nerves, so I started walking faster and soon enough I was finally by myself in front of them. While walking, I started thinking to myself. I thought about how difficult this actually is, surviving in the desert, and realizing that it is one of the most difficult things I have ever done. But then I thought about the future and how so many new things will be coming my way and many of them will be very difficult, but if I am able to get through this difficult experience, then I know I will be ready to conquer anything that comes my way in the future. That moment I had, realizing that I can take on whatever happens in the future, was the best feeling I could have had, and I’m so thankful for it.
Ultimately, my six week trip to Israel was the most incredible experience I have ever had in my life. I am so grateful that I was given the opportunity to go on this trip, and I am so blessed that Memphis Jewish Federation helped me get there. I don’t know any other way to show my gratitude except a genuine thank you.
Daniel Slovis, the son of Amy Israel and Adam Slovis, is a senior at Lausanne School. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided him with a Teen Israel Experience grant to help offset the costs of his Ramah Israel Seminar program in Israel. All rising juniors and seniors in the Memphis Jewish community are eligible for grants of up to $2500 to attend a recognized teen summer program in Israel. Teen Israel Experience applications for summer 2017 will be available in November at www.jcpmemphis.org/lemsky-endowment-fund.