People

Mandy Cassius: My Teen Israel Experience

by JCPConnect-
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Mandy Cassius, daughter of Melinda and Lyn Cassius, is a senior at White Station High School, and is pictured riding a donkey at Kfar Kedem. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided her with a Teen Israel Experience grant to offset the costs of her NCSY/ JSU/The Jewish Journey program 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 open and can be accessed at Lemsky Endowment Fund | Jewish Community Partners (jcpmemphis.org)

By Mandy Cassius:

Israel, where should I start? This summer was truly the best one ever! Every day was the best day on the NCSY/JSU The Jerusalem Journey (TJJ) trip. I cannot imagine a better way to have spent my summer!!

Walking in, I never thought I would make as many lifelong lasting friends. I arrived knowing very few people, except my sister and an advisor from my city, and left with at least a dozen best friends. Right now, I can confirm that I have stayed in touch with a lot of the people I met on TJJ Midwest. I have never seen a group of people come together like we did this summer.

We clapped every other minute. We danced. We sang. Before, after, and during Shabbat. We cried and laughed and smiled, sometimes all at once.

We started our trip on the Golan Heights and worked our way through Jerusalem into Eilat and back to Jerusalem, visiting many cities along the way. Some of the most meaningful places we went were the four holy cities, Tzfat, Tiberias, Hebron, and Jerusalem because they really encompassed the four elements of air, water, earth and fire.

Before going on TJJ, I thought I had a strong Jewish identity, but not surprisingly, going to Israel made it even more clear. It got stronger because of the people I was with like my new friends, my amazing advisors, and my family, which were my friends, advisors, and Israeli cousins. Nothing beats the great bond I developed with my Chaburah and our discussions of the power of questions and what tefillah (prayer) meant to us.

Something even greater than the people themselves was experiencing Israel, its holy cities, shuks (markets), hikes, shawarma, hostels, rivers, views, each Shabbat, and museums with the TJJ family. Shabbat was surreal and really gave the day of rest a new meaning to me.

TJJ had a lot of adventures, and some of my favorites were wakeboarding, sleeping in Bedouin tents, and scenic water hikes. As for the Jewish connection I had, well, it’s indescribable. At the shuk market on Ben Yehuda Street, I bargained for a Hamsa necklace that I’ve worn everyday since returning from Israel. It makes me feel closer to my Jewish homeland.

Stepping on that slippery Jerusalem stone with my eyes closed and hand on my friend’s shoulder was just the beginning: the Kotel reveal. I just started tearing up, not expecting to cry. There, straight in front of me was the wall with all the history staring back at me. On the trip we went to the Kotel four times, and I had a different experience every time. My second time going was on Tisha B’Av (the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av), the saddest day of the year. The third time was on Shabbat where we danced with a bride to be, and the fourth time was right before our goodbye banquet.

I will miss the sunrise hike and countless gorgeous red sunsets, which made me feel like I was living a dream. Even though the summer is over, I know I will be back in the near future!!

I am grateful to Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund for helping to make my NCSY/JSU TJJ summer experience possible.

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