Arts & Culture, People

Travel to Europe, Israel Builds Lifelong Friendships, Memories for Memphis Teen

by JCPConnect-
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By Sarah Unowsky

Prior to my BBYO trip this past summer, my knowledge of Israel was rudimentary. I had been able to learn the basics: Israel has a parliamentary form of government, Israel’s capital is Jerusalem, Israel is a world leader in technology, etc.  What no one had ever attempted to teach me– what you can only comprehend from experiencing it yourself– is the extraordinary sense of belonging that comes from being in the land of Israel for the first time. This is what I experienced as I ate a falafel in pita on Ben Yehudah Street for my first Israeli meal, and this is how I felt during my last Shabbat in Israel at the Western Wall. Returning to Memphis, I ultimately felt far more connected to my Jewish identity.

On the plane to Israel, I was extremely nervous. We were flying from Warsaw, the last destination of my BBYO group’s ten-day tour of central Europe. Over the past week, we had experienced as much of central Europe as we could, from the beauty of the landscape to the horrors of the concentration camps. Those of us on the trip had grown unexplainably close.  This made for an extremely emotional goodbye in the airport when only half of us continued on to Israel and the rest flew home. I was convinced that my next twenty days in Israel couldn’t be as meaningful or memorable as my last ten in Europe.

Needless to say, I was incorrect. Traveling across central Europe before flying to Israel served to enhance my overall experience, not to detract from it. After I had experienced Judaism’s past in the historic Jewish quarters of Prague and Krakow, I was able to experience Judaism’s present along the streets of Tel Aviv. After bearing witness at Auschwitz concentration camp, I was able to appreciate Yad Vashem from a more educated perspective.

One of the most meaningful experiences I had was climbing Masada. We woke up at four in the morning and reached Masada’s peak just in time for sunrise. It was simply beautiful. Upon coming back down, we were treated to an amazing breakfast. It was then that I was able to taste the best shakshuka I’ve ever had!

My overall experience was incredible, but it wouldn’t have been the same without the people I traveled with. I made meaningful connections with Jewish high school students from across the country. Leaving them to come back to Memphis at the end of my trip felt like I was leaving my family. I am exceedingly grateful for this incredible opportunity, and I would recommend it to any Memphis Jewish teen.

Sarah Unowsky, the daughter of Keri and Daniel Unowsky, is a 12th grade student at White Station High School. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided her with a Teen Israel Experience grant to help offset the costs of her Summer 2018 BBYO program in Europe 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 summer or semester program in Israel. Teen Israel Experience applications for summer 2019 will be available soon.

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