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Benjamin Siegel: My Teen Israel Experience

by JCPConnect-
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Benjamin Siegel, son of Dr. Joel and Rachel Siegel, is a senior at Cooper Yeshiva High School for Boys (pictured doing a headstand with a statue of Ben-Gurion at his childhood home). Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemksy Endowment Fund provided him with a Teen Israel Experience grant to help offset the cost of his Ramah Israel Seminar 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 go to: www.jcpmemphis.org/lemsky-endowment-fund.

By: Benjamin Siegel

During this past June and July, I was fortunate to experience the summer of a lifetime. Not only was I in the holy land of Israel, but I was there touring and traveling the entire country, visiting sites from west to east and north to south. It was an extraordinary trip.

In the famous episode of Jacob’s dream, God promises him in Genesis 28:14 that “your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south.” This verse perfectly encapsulates my experience. I am one of Jacob’s descendants and my Israel experience allowed me to see the entire country. Touring Israel truly exceeded my expectations. I was privileged to visit holy places, walk in the footsteps of my ancestors, and meet new people from around the country. Ramah Seminar was an enlightening and inspiring adventure that I will never forget. 

Although this summer was my third time in Israel, it was the most meaningful one. While we toured for six weeks, there were a few experiences that stood out to me. Within our first week, my favorite experience was rafting near the Sea of Galilee. For two hours, we were able to relax and meet new people while drifting on the water and occasionally falling into it. A few weeks later, we reached Jerusalem. While I had been to the Kotel previously, this time the Kotel had an additional level of meaning. I wrote notes to place in it and said a personal prayer with my hand resting on it. But leading davening there with a minyan brought me to an entirely new spiritual level.

Benjamin, pictured on the right with his friend Yehuda at the Kotel, enjoyed visiting destinations all across Israel on his Lemsky-sponsored trip.

Next, we moved on to the Negev, southern Israel, where we lived on a kibbutz adjacent to the grave of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister. I learned that while he was focused on establishing a Jewish state in general, he paid particular attention to developing the Negev. I was surprised to learn that it comprises approximately half of Israel. If no one lived there, Israel would be more vulnerable to attack from the South. Our kibbutz had a beautiful view overlooking many nearby canyons. At sunset, the magnificent nature and wildlife were even more impressive. I now fully understand Ben-Gurion’s attraction to the Negev. 

As we returned to Jerusalem for the last week, I began reflecting on how much I had seen and accomplished. We traveled throughout the entire country in a span of six weeks. I completed the Yam L’yam (Sea to Sea) adventure, walking and biking from the Sea of Galilee to the Mediterranean Sea. We hiked up Masada at dawn and I was fortunate to lead davening at the summit overlooking the Dead Sea at sunrise. We walked in our ancestors’ footsteps across the land which was promised to their descendants. I made lifelong friends from across the country and met many Israelis, including some who just finished their army service. My trip and experience were all so spectacular.

I am grateful to the Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund for helping to make my Ramah Israel Seminar trip to Israel possible. I highly recommend that other high school students visit Israel whenever possible. There is truly no other place like it on Earth.

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