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By Gaylee Schif
Aug 30, 2015 By Lauren Katz Category: Travel,
A second trip and a new view: Seeing Israel through a JNF lens
|Photo: Robert Kerzner|
The author rings a chime in Aleh Negev's sensory garden, created to stimulate the senses of the facility's disabled residents.
I remember the excitement I felt as we approached the Western Wall. There was plenty of nervous giggling as our group walked toward it holding hands with our eyes closed. Once we reached a ledge in front of the Wall, our group leader told us to open our eyes. Then, silence. There it was. The Wall we pray toward. The Wall I have a painting of in my living room. The Wall I made out of sugar cubes for an art project at Jewish day school. In that short 10-day trip, I immensely deepened the connection I felt to a place thousands of miles away.
Five years later, I returned to Israel for a second trip, this time on a Jewish National Fund mission for digital-media professionals who traveled there to learn more about JNF projects and hopefully bring greater awareness to them. I experienced the same sense of belonging I did on my first visit, but the itinerary was completely different. Birthright -- which seeks to strengthen young people’s Jewish identity and solidarity with Israel -- is like I-80, the quickest, most-traveled route across the U.S. The digital-media mission is Route 50, the road less traveled but full of must-see sights, with less congestion and more inside, on-the-ground views into the daily lives of Israelis.
Lauren (right) and friend Ady Barazany.
this summer. Ady, who was serving
in the IDF five years ago, accompanied
the author's Birthright group.
If I had to describe the trip in two words, they would be passionate and caring. Of course, every JNF project is valuable in its own way, but the following are some of the places that stood out to me that are not your average tourist destinations.
We met Hadar, an IDF soldier who leaves her nearby base twice a week to volunteer at the facility. She told us she was nervous to work with the children at first because severe disabilities are not something she was used to seeing, but now loves being able to see the difference she’s making.
|Photo: Robert Kerzner|
An emotional experience as new immigrants to Israel step off the plane.
It was incredible to see the pure joy and raw emotion of people stepping off the plane, as well as the excitement of the family, friends, soldiers, and supportive strangers who woke up early to welcome them at the airport with songs, flags, and signs. It’s amazing that Israel is a place people from all around the world feel is their home.
We had the privilege of meeting Shlomo Hillel, a 92-year-old former Knesset speaker who worked in the factory, and hearing the dramatic story from his perspective. When I asked Shlomo if it was hard to keep the secret from his family and other kibbutz members, he said no. He and the other scouts involved were incredibly proud of their efforts and their ability to outsmart the British at every turn, he said. (I wish every historical site and museum had a someone on hand who experienced the event!)
“Israel’s most valuable resource is the people,” LOTEM Director Alisa Bodner told us during our tour of the organization’s farm in Emek HaShalom, the Valley of Peace. Each place we visited proved this point again and again. The importance of passion and kindness are two characteristics I would love to see continue to grow in Israel and spread across the world.
Photo: Robert Kerzner
Shlomo Hillel at the Ayalon Institute: It's not every day you get to learn about history from someone who lived it firsthand.