We’re marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel with a year-long celebration! Keep an eye out for “Memphis Celebrates Israel at 70” branding at your synagogue, at events around town, and online. In this series, we’re asking Memphians to tell their personal Israel stories. Do you have a story to tell?
I have been to Israel a lot for a seventeen-year-old. Many people asked me why I wanted to go back to Israel this past summer instead of doing something completely different. My response to anyone who asked was that Israel is not meant to be “done” once; it is a place to explore and learn for a lifetime.
During my six weeks on Ramah Israel Seminar, I traveled with about 250 Jewish kids from America, Canada, and even Europe. My motto for the trip was, “there is always something new to learn,” and there was! However, I briefly forgot my motto when signing up for the infamous “Desert Survival” hiking trip.
We arrived in Sde Boker and were split up into groups of ten. With heavy backpacks on our shoulders filled with food and supplies for all of our meals, we began hiking the scorpion- and snake-filled desert called the Negev. “Time to make lunch!” the guide yelled. I caught the eyes of the nine other helpless teens in my group, all looking at our meager supply of food. To the tired and hungry teens that we were, the mechanics of a gas stove became the equivalent of rocket science, and cooking seemed like a magical mystery concept. That afternoon, we ended up eating a “delicious” meal of hardened rice topped with ripped salami, and a side of assorted whole vegetables sprinkled with powdered techina. As the trip continued, our culinary skills improved; our group soon became the victor of Master Chef: Desert Edition!
Our first night in the desert, we learned that hardcore Israelis consider tents a form of “glamping”. Instead, we slept on tarps under the open sky. After my friend found a scorpion on her toilet paper, I was a bit worried about sleeping just centimeters above the known and unknown deadly creatures of the desert. However, when the sun set, I realized that there is nothing like sleeping right under the stars. My friends and I stayed up for hours looking at the constellations, and now I can finally point out the North Star!
On the second day after waking up at 4:30 a.m., the guide announced that it was time to try out something new– let the kids orienteer! Once again, I looked at my peers with nervous eyes. We did not want to be the second generation of Jews to walk the desert for 40 years. However, our guide had taught us how to read a map. We had learned to spot the dips in the land, the dried-up river beds, and the mountains. With only a piece of paper as our guide, and our true guide ten feet behind us, we directed ourselves for over five miles.
Despite the giant spiders and scorpions, insane heat, and steep terrain, the four days and three nights I spent in the Negev desert were some of the most amazing ones of my life. If I have this much to say about four out of the 42 days I spent in Israel, you can only imagine the endless number of other stories I have to share. There is still so much more to be done, so much more to learn, and I would take any opportunity to go back to my homeland, Israel.
Lila Baer, the daughter of Larisa and Ben Baer, 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 costs of her Ramah program in Israel in Summer 2017. All rising juniors and seniors in the Memphis Jewish community are eligible for grants of up to $3000 to attend a recognized teen summer program in Israel. Teen Israel Experience applications for summer 2018 are available at www.jcpmemphis.org/lemsky-endowment-fund.