Michael Hirsch, son of Marci and Geoffrey Hirsch, is a senior at Lausanne Collegiate School. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided him with a Teen Israel Experience grant to offset the costs of his NFTY 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 now available online. Click here to learn more and apply.
Before traveling to Israel, I had ideas of what the place would be like. I knew there was a vast stretch of desert. I knew there were cities thousands of years old. I knew there was a sea so salty that nothing could live in it. But I did not know what it would feel like.
During my adventure in Israel, I found all those things to be true. I visited the Western Wall and swam in the Mediterranean Sea I had seen many times before in pictures. Yet, being in these places provided an alternative perspective I was unable to reach by simply observing pictures. This feeling was not necessarily connection, as I did not feel connected to places in the ways that others might have. I think for me, it was more of a sense of awe. Yes, the Western Wall was not quite as tall as I had expected and I did not feel an obvious connection to Judaism there, I was more taken aback just by the history. To know I was standing in a spot where so much had happened thousands of years ago was something special.
It was also an important experience for me to be able to immerse myself in another culture. I became very interested in learning basic Hebrew, and it was satisfying when I was able to order shawarma in Hebrew. Additionally, I was able to compare the life of Israelis to that of my own. I am not sure what I was expecting, but there was a large number of similarities between my life and the lives of other Israelis I met. I appreciated the prevalence of places to play soccer, which are not quite as abundant in the US.
Although I do not think my connection to Judaism was majorly heightened by my trip, there were some things I noticed. For instance, there is a comfort in knowing most of the people around are Jewish, which is not something I would feel anywhere else. Going along with culture, I saw more Stars of David and synagogues in Israel than I had seen in my entire life beforehand. The absolute normalcy of Judaism was something I very much appreciated about Israel, and will probably never see anywhere outside of Israel, except for maybe New York.
To finish, my Israel trip provided me with a perspective on Judaism, culture, and history that was incredibly rich. All of those are heavily abundant in Israel, which is what makes it such a neat place to visit. The fact that I could see four countries in one view is extraordinary to me. Being able to walk in the Old City where people have lived for thousands of years before me and hearing the stories about it is an incredibly captivating lesson in history. Israel showed me things I would have never seen otherwise, and I am grateful for that.
Thank you to Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund for helping to make my NFTY Israel summer experience possible.