This summer I spent four weeks in Israel with an organization called JCC Maccabia Israel. Without hesitation, I can say that it was the most amazing and life-changing experience I’ve had. The trip had a total of 39 kids, 30 of whom were Americans, and nine Israeli campers from Kiryat Gat, which is in the south of Israel.
During the trip we had a home stay weekend where we stayed at the Israeli’s homes. The home stay weekend was the highlight of the trip because I really got to feel and experience what it is like being a teenager in Israel. The family that I stayed with welcomed us with arms wide open and made us feel at home. It was also a very eye-opening experience for me. Kiryat Gat is a 45-minute drive from the Gaza Strip, and I was surprised by how safe I felt despite being in an area that is targeted with rockets from Gaza. We met all their school friends and families and we were touched by how happy and eager they all were to meet “The Americans” and have us visiting their home. Witnessing how happy and welcoming they were showed us how much pride they have in Kiryat Gat and in Israel Itself and wanted to share that pride with all of us.
Aside from the home stay weekend another highlight of the trip was the three days and two nights in the Negev Desert. The first day there we rode camels and slept at a Bedouin camp that night. The owner of the camp talked to us about the Bedouin lifestyle and culture and we were served a traditional Bedouin dinner. Staying at the Bedouin camp gave me a sense of all the cultures and lifestyles that co-exisit in Israel today.
During the four weeks I spent in Israel I formed strong friendships with the Israelis and more importantly, I experienced what it is like to be living in Israel as a 17 year old. I also loved learning how everyone observes Judaism differently and has their own ways of expressing the importance of Judaism in their lives and I found it interesting to learn about all the different ways everyone sees Judaism but no matter how different two peoples ways of practicing Judaism can be, they are still connected through the Jewish religion.