Ellie Royal: My Teen Israel Experience

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Ellie and Friends at an archeological dig.

Ellie Royal, daughter of Leigh and Craig Royal is a junior 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 NFTY Jacobs Camp 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. To learn more and apply, click here.

By: Ellie Royal

This past summer, I had the best opportunity to visit Israel on a NFTY in Israel program. NFTY in Israel is a program where you are able to see Israel with your URJ camp. I visited Israel with all my camp friends from Henry S. Jacobs camp, which made the trip even more special. Traveling to Israel with lifelong best friends was the most incredible experience. Along with being with your own camp friends, each camp is paired up with another URJ camp, therefore you also have the opportunity to make new friends from different regions of the United States.

Before going to Israel, I had no idea what to expect. I knew Israel was an important place to my religion and culture, however, I had no idea how just important it really is. I learned many different things during my trip, such as the history of Jewish people and the history of Israel, different aspects of Judaism, and we got to visit some of Judaism’s most holy places. In my opinion, the most memorable religious site we saw was the Western Wall. One of my favorite memories from the whole trip was spending the first Shabbat in Jerusalem in front of the Western Wall. We did Shabbat services, sang camp songs, and learned about the Western Wall and why it is so important. I loved being able to take in the feeling of being at the holiest Jewish site in the world with all my best friends.

 Another one of my favorite things in Israel was our three-day excursion to the Desert. We slept in the Bedouin tents one night and slept at campsites the other two nights. During our time spent in the desert, we floated in the Dead Sea, rode camels, and went on scenic hikes. The funny memories I made in the desert are memories I will never forget.

Another one of my favorite parts of the trip was Sea to Sea. Sea to Sea is a three-day hike from the Sea of Galilee to the Mediterranean Sea. Going into Sea to Sea, many of my friends and I were nervous. We felt unprepared to hike all day, cook our own food in the woods, and sleep under the stars. Although Sea to Sea was not necessarily an educational aspect of the trip, I felt as though it was the most influential part of the trip. I found it made me get out of my comfort zone and taught me things I would never learn if I didn’t choose to do it. I learned to trust people when navigating through the trails, and I learned as well that I really enjoy hiking – specifically hiking with all of my friends on beautiful trails in Israel.

 All in all, my experience in Israel was easily the best experience of my life. I learned so many things not just about my faith, but also about myself. I made memories with all my best friends that will last a lifetime. I am so beyond grateful for the opportunity we had when visiting Israel, and I hope to visit Israel again soon. Thank you to Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund for helping to make my NFTY Jacobs Camp Israel trip possible.

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