My #Israelinks Trip to Israel Summer

Monday, 7 July, 2014 - 8:07 pm

dan rosenfield 2.jpgWhen the forty college students from across the nation who signed up for IsraeLinks convened close to midnight at JFK airport on May 18th two weeks for our IsraeLinks journey. All we knew was there would be learning and touring in amazing experience for sure, but we didn’t know much more.

Most of us on the trip had taken the Sinai Scholars course offered at our campus Chabads. Although those classes were insightful and encouraged us to challenge our beliefs and thoughts on Jewish texts, it wasn’t until IsraeLinks did those texts come alive, and I was able to take an in-depth look at what being Jewish really means in practice. I chose to sign up for IsraeLinks in order to immerse myself and be a more educated and inspired Jew so that when I came back to my community and my campus, I could be a more knowledgeable and prepared supporter of my Jewish community.

IsraeLinks is a two-week program where one week is spent in Tzfat, the birthplace of Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism, and the other week is spent in Jerusalem. These cities are very different from each other, so as a participant I was able to see Judaism practiced in unique ways in each of these cities. Every morning was spent learning in a classroom, where we explored topics and issues that were relevant to us as young Jews. These topics ranged from Jewish life cycles to rituals to relationships. The rabbis and rebbetzins who led the classes encouraged us to question the reasoning behind topics and issues and much to my surprise; I looked forward to each class every day. No question was off the table, and every class offered a different perspective on all kinds of aspects about Judaism.

The afternoons were usually spent touring a certain destination. During the first week, where we were based out of Tzfat, we traveled to the Rosh Hanikra’s grottos and explored massive tunnels. The massive geological formations were a fantastic first impression, accompanied by an afternoon spent bike riding along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. 

Pictures on the internet and in books can only show a glimpse of the beauty of Israel, as that afternoon the views we experienced along the coast were absolutely stunning.

Another highlight of Tzfat was Shabbat evening with local host families. After services at the CRAZIEST synagogue you will ever go to, we were split into small groups, got away from the hustle and bustle of the week and our normal trip schedule, and walked to assigned families in the city who hosted us for dinner. The family, who had moved to Tzfat from New Jersey, I went to was incredibly hospitable, and my group and I were at their house past midnight discussing everything from college life to life in Israel; it was amazing to hear their story about why they moved and what they found special about the little city of Tzfat.

dan rosenfield 3.jpgFor the second week in Israel, we were based out of Jerusalem. One afternoon, we traveled to Chevron to see Machpelah, the tomb of our Jewish matriarchs and patriarchs. 

This structure, where every matriarch and patriarch except for Rachel, is buried, gave us an opportunity to see for ourselves and understand who the founders of our Jewish people are. No one knew what to expect for the next were given rare access to the city, which was ravaged with evidence of suicide bombings and terrorist attacks. As we toured, we gained a greater appreciation for our Jewish communities back in the United States and understood even more why it is necessary to do everything we can to protect the state of Israel. That evening, we went to the local army base that was responsible for the protection of the city. Speaking with the soldiers made us realize that behind all the pride and celebration for Israel, it is a constant struggle.

Another day in Jerusalem, the boys and girls on the trip each went to their respective Mayanot yeshiva programs in the city. For part of our learning with Mayanot, the rules of kashrut that we were studying in the classroom came alive as we were given a behind-the-scenes tour of a few places in the shuk, or marketplace, including a kosher bakery and fish market, where we saw first-hand the importance of kashrut, and what made these kosher establishments Yom Yerushalayim, or Jerusalem Independence Day, was another exciting moment on the trip. All over the city that day, people were dressed in white and music was playing from every business. That afternoon, thousands from across the city gathered and walked together through the Old City of Jerusalem, chanting and singing, as we made our way to the Western Wall. Seeing the blue and white of thousands was inspiring and was a display of solidarity with all those who live, pray, and defend the city of Jerusalem and the state of Israel.

One of the coolest parts of IsraeLinks was the guest speakers from all walks of life that were brought in to share their stories and expertise. One of the guest speakers was named Tova Mordechai; she was raised by a Christian father and a closeted Jewish mother. While attending a strict Christian college, she explored her Jewish identity by eavesdropping at her local synagogue’s services, and today is an observant Jew living in Tzfat. It was fascinating to hear her story as well as the many others we spoke to at every stop we made in Israel. Each person we met had a fascinating life story, and the people with these incredible stories could only be found by traveling...or as it is more commonly said, “returning” to Israel, as the homeland of every Jew is the state of Israel.

This trip allowed for self-discovery of my Jewish identity and my neshama, or Jewish soul. Each destination and activity meant something different for each person on the trip, which made it a lot more special. By the end of the trip, the bond I had with the other trip mates was unbreakable because although we came from every corner of the United States, our Judaism was a connection that was unbreakable.

dan rosenfield.jpgI would recommend this trip for anyone who wants to learn more about themselves and their Jewish culture. The places I went to and the people I met could only happen in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and these experiences can be brought back and shared with my Texas A&M Jewish community. I came on IsraeLinks with a few dozen questions about Judaism, but I left with ten times that because over the two weeks I was in Israel, I was constantly exposed to new things and saw new avenues to look into. If you’ve been on Birthright and you want to go back to Israel, experience won’t regret it.

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