Adding memories to my heart

by | Dec 24, 2018 | Other News

I have been fortunate to travel to Israel three times in my life; once with the Jewish Federation of Philadelphia during my senior year of high school, once in 2015 with the Tom Hofheimer Hineni! mission and then again, this past summer, with the UJFT Journey Home Mission trip. Israel is truly a magical place; the history and religious significance, the people, the food, and culture are simply unparalleled. Each trip has allowed me to see Israel in different ways and have new adventures, while also affording me the opportunity to strengthen my Jewish identity.

Reflecting on all my journeys and my takeaways from each experience, a common thread rises to the surface. For me, the people I meet and forge relationships with on the journey are what I feel most passionately about and what I keep close to my heart. I will never forget sitting in the common area of the youth hostel in Jerusalem, circa 1994, and chatting with a group of seemingly intimidating, rifle-clad IDF soldiers. My very young and naïve mind could not process the fact that all Israeli kids, essentially kids my age, served in the army. These young soldiers had  already had life experiences I couldn’t even comprehend.

One of my favorite moments on the Hineni! trip was when we visited Pardes Katz. We toured the Matnas, visited children in the preschool, saw the new dance studio complete with ballet barres on the wall, and witnessed a performance by the children who benefit from the arts program. In these children I saw the future of Israel; they had twinkles in their eyes and it was as if they were singing to my heart—I was moved to tears.

This latest trip filled my bucket with even more people and special, memorable moments. We listened to some very difficult stories from Reuven Fisherman, a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor. He took part in the Photography with Joy program through the JDC, which is supported (in-part) by our campaign dollars. (The exhibit will be on display in January in the Leon Family Gallery at the Sandler Family Campus). It is so incredibly important that we bear witness to their stories and absorb everything that the shrinking number of survivors have to tell about their experiences. I feel so fortunate to have been able to hear his story, see his photographs, and share this moment with the other trip participants.

As a huge Fauda fan, I was beyond excited to meet Dana Stern, managing director of YES Studios and producer of Fauda and Michal Aviram, screenwriter for the show. I asked questions about the show and its script and after the formal presentation, I was able to chat one-on-one with these incredible women. I probably floated out of the building on cloud nine after Stern complemented my question, and said she had never noticed an aspect of the storyline I asked about.

I had also looked forward to the meeting with Sarah Tuttle-Singer, Times of Israel new media editor. I have read several of her articles online, and we have a friend in common—so I couldn’t wait to connect with her. After taking Tuttle-Singer’s very personal and incredibly special tour of the Old City, I was honored to sit casually by the pool on Shabbat afternoon and chat with her about the complexities of life in Israel, while her kids splashed and played just a few feet away.

The end of the trip took us to Rosh Hanikra for sunset and dinner. Simply stated, it was a beautiful and unforgettable night. First, we met up with some friends from Tidewater’s sister city Kiryat Yam. It was so great to see Sima, Gal, and David again after meeting them on our last trip to Israel and then hosting them in Tidewater last year. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to reconnect. We then saw an incredible performance by a dance group comprised of young adults with disabilities. I can very much appreciate the difficulty in memorizing choreography and these kids were amazing! Many of the performers’ mothers were in the audience and these women beamed with pride. Their children had worked hard, they were happy, and most importantly, they were proud of themselves. It was incredibly touching to witness. Because of its accessibility, this dance group chose to make its home at the Center for Young Adults (CYA) in Kiryat Yam. This particular CYA is supported by the Tidewater Jewish community. Likewise, because the dance group is a JDC-supported program, it too receives funding through Tidewater’s annual campaign.

All of these experiences were exceptional because of the people behind them. Reuven, Dana, Michal, Sarah, our friends from Kiryat Yam, and countless others are what made this trip amazing. Finally, the trip participants that I got to know during our week in Israel may be what is most special. I am so glad I got to meet members of our community that I didn’t know before. All of these moments and memories are forever stamped in my brain and it’s the people that made them special. I love to meet people, hear their stories, ask questions, and find a commonality. I will always continue to do that, and I can’t wait for my next opportunity to add more great people and memories to my heart!

Stephanie Steerman