My experience in Israel was amazing and had a major impact on my life. The trip was filled with amazing teens and staff who made me feel excited about Israel and Judaism. My time in Israel would not have been nearly the same without all of these wonderful people I had with me. After returning home, I immediately wanted to go back, because the trip connected me so much to the country of Israel. The first time I went to Israel, I was only eight years old, so this trip was almost like the first time I had ever been, and it was a great way to experience Israel.
One aspect of the trip that I enjoyed was spending time on the beach. It was a great bonding experience with the other people on my trip. I took this as a great opportunity to create a deeper bond with not only the people of Israel, but also the beauty of Israel. I always knew that Israel was a beautiful country, but being able to see it for myself made it even more real. Pictures do not do the country’s beauty justice, and all the scenery I saw added to my experience. The bus rides were another great part of the trip because I was able to see all of the beauty within the country. Bus rides gave me a sense of Israel, by being able to see everything from my window.
Another meaningful experience was visiting the Western Wall. I went there twice, with one time being on Shabbat. The Wall was a place where I felt very connected to my Judaism. We arrived at the Wall and then we were checked by security— there were a number of armed guards— which struck me as very different from any synagogue or religious environment in America. In America, the security doesn’t feel as intense as in Israel. Everywhere I went, there were armed guards, and I have never felt safer anywhere else. I felt really good about practicing my Judaism in such a secure place. When I walked closer towards the wall, I felt very connected to it, and saying a prayer made me feel at peace. This experience brought me closer to Israel and to all of the people on my trip.
Shabbat is a very fun time for me and it is one of my favorite camp traditions, so I was very excited to experience it in Israel. The day felt even more special than any other day. On Friday, the whole country had a different feel because everybody was preparing for Shabbat. My group went to the Western Wall again, which felt different because more people were there than the last time we went, and they were all wearing fancy Shabbat clothes. I loved that everybody treated it as a special day more than the rest of the week.
My trip to Israel was an amazing journey. I had experiences that I don’t think I could have had anywhere else. I met many wonderful people and saw amazing places. It would not have been the same without the group of people who I went with. After touring Israel, I feel more connected to my Judaism and myself.
Sophie Skolnick, the daughter of Larry Skolnick, is a 11th grade student at Hutchison School. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided her with a Teen Israel Experience grant to help offset the costs of her Summer 2019 BBYO program in Israel. All rising juniors and seniors in the Memphis Jewish community are eligible for grants of up to $3000 to attend a recognized teen summer or semester program in Israel. Teen Israel Experience applications for summer 2020 are available at www.jcpmemphis.smapply.org.