Yosef Vanderwalde: My Teen Israel Experience

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Yosef with family at the Kotel

Yosef Vanderwalde, son of Drs. Lindi and Ari Vanderwalde, is a junior at the Cooper Yeshiva High School for Boys. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided him with a Teen Israel Experience grant to help offset the cost of his Mach Hach Ba’Aretz Israel trip last summer. 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. Applications for Summer 2023 are now available online. To learn more and apply, please click here.

By Yosef Vanderwalde

Before this year, I never recognized Israel as anything more than a vacation destination. I’ve been to Israel with my family twice before: once when I was six and once when I was ten. I wasn’t old enough to appreciate all that Israel had to offer that America could not. This visit was very different. I went on a program called Mach Hach Ba’Aretz for five weeks and had the time of my life and grew a new appreciation for the Land of Israel.

I arrived in Israel after a very long flight, was greeted by my old summer camp friends, and then met the people on my bus who I would be spending the next month in Israel. After driving to our hotel in Jerusalem to put our bags down, we headed to the bus again to take the short trip to the Western Wall. I had visited the Wall before, but this time I felt an incredible connection with the city and the people around me and I was excited to experience Israel again.

Mach Hach Ba’Aretz is a touring program, we went from the Golan Heights in the north to the Red Sea in the south and from the beaches of the Mediterranean in the east to the Dead Sea in the west. We really covered a lot of ground. We went to many cities, including Tel Aviv, Haifa, Tzfat, Tiberius, Eilat, and so many more. Along the way we became friends with other Jewish teens from different countries such as England, France, and Belarus. My counselors were all amazing Americans who made aliyah to Israel after high school and it was very nice to get to know them and learn what made them love Israel.

While on my trip, I learned about what it is like to live in Israel. I really enjoyed being able to eat basically wherever I wanted because there were so many kosher options. It was nice to be in an environment where there were Jews always surrounding me. Sometimes in America, I don’t want to wear a Kippah because I am worried that someone will have a problem with me, but in Israel I was able to express my Judaism with everyone around me.

To conclude, I had an amazing time in Israel. I traveled throughout the entire country and was able to appreciate it as a young adult. Also, I saw what it was like to live in Israel as a Jew and enjoy all the delicious kosher foods. Lastly, I made tons of friendships that will hopefully last a lifetime. I love the Land of Israel and all that it has to offer, and maybe one day I will be able to move there.

Thank you to Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund for helping to make my Mach Hach Ba’Aretz trip possible.

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