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 always wanted my first trip to Israel to be memorable. Yes, I know, every trip to Israel is memorable and special, but I wanted something that would be life-changing. Ultimately, I decided to miss some of the final days of my senior year of high school, along with a week of AP exams, to embark on March of the Living, because I knew that this trip would indeed fulfill my desire for a life-changing experience. After spending a long, cold, and extremely emotional week in Poland, seeing multiple death camps and concentration camps, touring Warsaw and Krakow, and revisiting the Jewish people’s darkest times, I would be able to travel to the Holy Land to celebrate and enjoy all of our people’s accomplishments in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
No words can truly describe my full thoughts and emotions from my time in Poland, even to this day. Never in my life have I ever profusely cried without making a sound. No sobbing, sniffling, or heavy breathing. Several times, in some of the most intense locations, tears would roll down my face in excess. The emotions ran especially high on the day of the actual march, where I joined forces with thousands of other proud Jews to march from Auschwitz to Birkenau. Alongside some of my best friends, as well as a survivor, I walked out of a place millions could not. This was all extremely difficult to digest and process, and when I spoke to group leaders who have made this journey more than once, they assured me that, though there is no true way to overcome some of your feelings in these places, the best way is to visit Israel. As the departure day crept closer, I knew I was ready for a week of smiles and laughs to try to overcome the emotions of my time in Poland.
That week has gone down as one of the best of my life. From touching down in Israel in the early morning and seeing the sun rise at the beach on the Mediterranean, to our trip to the Kotel, our time on the sea of Galilee, and finally our celebration on Israel’s Independence Day, I was able to celebrate the beautiful achievements of the Jewish people while making lifelong friends and forging incredible memories. I will never forget the first time I touched my hand to the stones of the Western Wall and the immense feeling of God that I felt connected to, both in Jerusalem and all around Israel.
Thanks to BBYO and the Lemsky Endowment Fund, I was given an incredible, once in a lifetime opportunity to visit some of the darkest and brightest points in our Jewish history, all in two short weeks. I am incredibly grateful and humbled to have had this opportunity, and now I can proudly say that I am both a witness to the atrocities of the Holocaust and a proud supporter and advocate for the state of Israel.
Daniel Finan, the son of Janis and Pat Finan, is a 2017 graduate of White Station High School. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided him with a Teen Israel Experience grant to help offset the costs of his Spring 2017 BBYO program in Poland and Israel. All rising juniors and seniors in the Memphis Jewish community are eligible for grants of up to $3000 to attend a recognized teen spring or summer program in Israel. Teen Israel Experience applications for summer 2018 are available at www.jcpmemphis.org/lemsky-endowment-fund.