Morgan Schrier, daughter of Carolyn and Adam Schrier, is a senior at Hutchison School (Morgan and her friends are pictured walking through Jaffa, Israel from left to right: Nicole Feltster, Hannah Schenk, Chloe Teig, Carolie Hecht, Morgan Schrier, Hadassah Sternfeld.) Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemksy Endowment Fund provided her with a Teen Israel Experience grant to help offset the cost of her BBYO International Leadership 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: Morgan Schrier
This past summer, I traveled to Israel for the first time on BBYO’s International Leadership Seminar Israel (ILSI.) Having studied Israel for years throughout my Hebrew School and youth group career, I felt as if my expectations were set. I was most excited to see Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, as those are the two places one usually hears when learning about Israel in America. Looking back on it now, I had absolutely no idea what I was about to jump into. This was no ordinary trip.
Our journey, just like the State of Israel’s journey began, in Sde Boker. On our first full day post-quarantine, we learned about David Ben-Gurion, his time in Sde Boker, and Israel’s Declaration of Independence. I felt as if I had a whole new view of the country and its history. Though our time in the kibbutz was short, it allowed us to transport ourselves into David Ben-Gurion’s shoes and immediately understand the importance of Israel’s existence.
Next, we traveled throughout the Negev desert and learned about agriculture, rode camels, learned from the Bedouins, slept in their tents, hiked up Masada, and floated in the Dead Sea. We then made our way up to Jerusalem for our first Shabbat in Israel.
I will never forget seeing Jerusalem for the first time. As our bus emerged from the tunnel, everyone went silent and we all pressed our faces to the windows to take in the sights of the city. I immediately felt drawn to it, as if a force were pulling me in. The next day we walked throughout the Old City of Jerusalem. There was history and stories everywhere, and I felt my connection to the city grow by the minute.
My reaction to visiting the Kotel surprised even myself. I prayed, put my note in the wall, and listened to others’ stories of what they were hoping and praying for. Before I knew it, I felt tears rolling down my face. I do not think I will ever be able to explain why I cried. Most of us were emotional and weeping in each other’s arms as we supported one another. I felt so connected to the place and the people and at that moment. We were not one hundred individuals; we were one community.
We made our way up north; through Galilee, Tzfat, the Golan Heights, and Nazareth. We spoke with Arab-Israeli teens, swam in the Kinneret, learned from a Kabbalistic artist, and so much more. We then went to Tel Aviv, immersing ourselves in the markets, food, graffiti art, and bustling streets, to return to Jerusalem once again.
We took a field trip into the West Bank, to Gush Etzion. With an unspoken fear of where we were, our group sat down in an area, met by Rabbi Hanan. Rabbi Hanan spoke to us about his journey to Israel, and how he traveled from Texas to make Aliyah. Rabbi Hanan introduced us to his Palestinian friend, Noor, and he told us of his journey. The two met in the very place we were sitting, were able to engage in civil conversation, and become friends. Rabbi Hanan and Noor now work with an organization called Friends of Roots, which works to create friendships and mutual understandings between Israelis and Palestinians. I can say without a doubt that this was the most eye-opening and impactful part of our trip. Seeing two groups, a part of decades of long intense conflict, come together for the greater good was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
My summer Israel trip changed me for the better. I became more educated, more open-minded, more connected to my Judaism, and more connected to the state of Israel. I have a forever community with ILSI 2021 and cannot wait to travel back to one of the few places I truly feel at home. Thank you to Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky’s Endowment Fund for helping to make my BBYO International Leadership Seminar Israel possible.