Stella Blen, daughter of Alison and Scott Blen is a senior at St. Mary’s Episcopal School. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided her with a Teen Israel Experience grant to help offset the cost of her BBYO ISIL (International Leadership Seminar in Israel) Israel trip last summer. 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. Applications for Summer 2023 are now available online. Click here to learn more and apply.
By Stella Blen
Traveling to Israel this summer was one of the most magical experiences I have ever had. I had the opportunity to visit sites that I had been educated on for my entire life, and to see these historical and cultural landmarks in person was truly special.
We started off our journey in a kibbutz near the Kineret, and I did not know anybody on the trip at this point. The scenery was beautiful, the culture was thriving, and this stop was where I connected with so many other Jewish teens. We stayed there for around five days before traveling to Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv was rich with beautiful architecture and food, and we went on cool tours of the city. We would continue this cycle of staying in one city for two or three nights, then traveling to the next and repeating the cycle.
My favorite place we traveled to was probably the Negev. We stayed in this cool Kibbutz right in the desert and had the opportunity to listen to interesting speakers. I loved hiking in the desert canyons. We went on a night hike when the stars were out and the moon was full, and it was absolutely beautiful.
Something I especially loved about my trip, BBYO ILSI (International Leadership Seminar in Israel) was that rather than being only with teens from the United States, I met people from all over the world. Sixteen different countries were represented on our trip, and I now have friends from Argentina, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Canada, and many more countries. We all shared the common thread of Judaism, and it was a special feeling.
Not only did we get to experience important Jewish landmarks, but we all engaged in discussions surrounding issues with Israel itself. I remember when we all traveled to the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip (under the control of Hamas), and we sat in a circle discussing the conflicts between the two very divided nations. This conversation was extremely moving and definitely changed my perspective on the serious issue.
We also talked about anti-Jewish sentiment in the United States and the issues we face in our everyday lives as Jews. Having the opportunity to bond in our shared problems was really compelling and made me realize that I wasn’t alone. This discussion took place at Yad Vashem, one of the largest existing Holocaust museums and made me emotional to see all the evidence of the Holocaust. It was difficult but it is important to see these parts of Israel because it helps us understand who we are as Jews.
The last few days of the trip were some of my favorites. We climbed Masada, which was difficult, and I really did not think I could get to the top, but I did. We ended our journey at the Kotel. I loved going to the Kotel because I got to pray at the holiest site in Judaism. Overall, Israel was a phenomenal experience and I highly recommend it.
Thank you to Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund for helping to make my BBYO ISIL Israel trip possible.
Caption: Stella and other BBYO ISIL (International Leadership Seminar in Israel) participants from around the world enjoyed visiting historical landmarks throughout the country. Her trip was made possible in part with support from Teen Israel Experience Grant from Memphis Jewish Federation.