As I sit on a cold tile floor in the lobby of Yerucham B’Yachad, a multitude of thoughts are racing through my head regarding how much I have learned in such a short period of time and the unbelievable emotions I have experienced in just three and a half days. Before I boarded the plane, I had a realization about how I knew I was about to go on a trip that I would remember for the rest of my life that would most likely change my life. But of course, before anything actually happened, I could never predict the immense sense of understanding and belonging I have been experiencing on Alternative Winter Break with the JNF.
In an effort not to spill all of my thoughts out on a piece of paper like a leaking bag of Shoko, I am going to highlight some of my main realizations I have had thus far. Something I have been thinking a lot about since we have been meeting people who have made aliya is what the difference is between making aliya and immigrating. The Right of Return that the Jewish people inherently have makes the move to Israel different than to any other place in the world. Making aliya is making a promise to the people, to the religion, to the culture, to the land. Today at our archaeological dig, I spoke to a woman who made aliya a few years ago and started by walking from the north of the state to the south in seven months with just five dollars. She gave me advice: “Hashem writes your story, but you are in charge of the choices.” Her words really resonated with me, being that college students like myself can often feel like they are at a repetitive or stagnant point in their lives, but we can choose how to make ourselves happy and how to make our lives fulfilling.
Also regarding aliya, I have been thinking about how passionate the people we have met who have moved to Israel are, but there is more to it. Israel is not a place full of magical fantasies and a place to start a perfect life. There are obstacles every day, and some are similar and different to those in America. In Beer Sheva, I really started internalizing JNF’s mission to build up the land as I saw a clear division between the Olde City and the new part being built up. The work the JNF has done in clearing out a land that used to be full of sewage and old cars and the work it plans to continue doing in order to improve the land is impeccable. However, the fact that Israelis do not revere this place makes the mission a lot harder. If I lived here, I could see how it would be easy to ignore the issues in Beersheva, but being an outsider looking in, I admire the work that the JNF does and the picture tour that tries to advertise the beauty and youthful essence that Beer Sheva has to offer.
I could go on for pages, but one last realization I have had is about the power of the Jewish people. A girl in my group unfortunately lost a close friend the day we arrived, and yesterday we said the Kaddish for her. Another person in my group said, “it is beautiful how we can support someone through religion.” Wow, supporting each other through religion. That is something beautiful. Yeah, we all connect differently to our Judaism: some spiritually, some culturally, some through their passion for Israel, and some through Jewish camp. The fact that we are all Jewish is enough, though. More than enough. We have created such a supportive and caring community that is easily created in a Jewish setting. This Jewish experience is unlike any other, and we would not have it any other way than to spend it with the 34 of us in places we have never been, accomplishing things we never thought we could. We can, we are, and we will.”
Tara Levine, Sophomore, Alternative Break Participant, Temple University