To take 10 students overseas alone for any length of time seems like a task for someone who has a screw loose. To compound that craziness by making it a three week trip to Washington D.C., New York City, Jerusalem, Modi’in, Jaffa, Haifa, Masada, and Tel Aviv is the dream of a madman, yet this is the task I volunteered for when I said I would travel to Israel on behalf of the Global Studies and World Languages Academy of Tallwood High School in Virginia Beach. In November, I took 10 of our incredibly bright and socially aware students to represent our country, our Commonwealth and our city. I believe they did so with flying colors.
To describe Israel and the effect of being there is to try to paint a picture with only two colors. It is a story with so many shades, and is so complicated my few words will not do it justice. Israel is a country of contrasts. Just as you think you have a handle on the country, it surprises you. To look at the wall or security fence that both protects and defends, to walk the paths of Yad Vashem, to dance and sing in a Palestinian school, everything you do and see adds another layer to the puzzle. I thought I would come back with memories and pictures to use in my classroom, to help my students understand Israel better. What I came back with instead are more questions, and the realization that all of the teenagers involved in this undertaking will need to be willing to give, to listen, and to learn about each other to see a brighter, more peaceful future for both our nations.
Following are excerpts of the students’ reflections of the trip:
I was able to meet people from Israel and learn about their customs and traditions, and also I was able to meet new people from all over my country. Although we were different and had our own ways of living, deep down we were all the same. I learned that I had more in common with someone across the globe than I thought. We had the same interest in music, hobbies, and sports. My mind was expanded in a whole new way, not only by learning about the Israeli ways of life, but also how we interacted with each other. This trip has helped me see the world in a more global perspective, and has provided me with memories that will last a lifetime.
This trip brought out more in me than just my role as a student. We got a first-hand look at some incredible places such as the Western Wall during Shabbat, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the numerous Israeli markets. As the second week ended, we moved in with our host students in Modi’in and lived as an Israeli. This was my favorite part of the trip, as we got to experience everything that our host did. I cannot end this without mentioning how incredible the food is, from the falafel to the “toast” from the restaurant Menfis. In all, this was an unforgettable trip and I am so grateful that I had the privilege to go.
My trip to Israel was a life-changing experience. Every day I was there, I grew not only in character, but spiritually as I connected with the people of the same origin as myself. I felt so at home.
Jerusalem was an extremely different, yet rewarding experience. The breathtaking limestone was phenomenal and really gave the city the historical feel that I had read about. The landscape was beautiful, but what was even more interesting was the diversity of people and religions that lived peacefully in one city.
Tel Aviv was modern and so much fun! I remember just looking up at the tall skyscrapers, lit up in the night sky, and being speechless. The city was bustling and everyone was so friendly to our delegation and our host students from Modi’in.
Staying in Modi’in was my favorite part. The people were so kind and welcoming. My host student, Zohar Gorny, and her family were the friendliest people I have ever met. I felt like a part of their family immediately and today, even half way across the world, I consider them a part of my family.
Before applying for this trip I heard it all. From the country is bombed every day to they ride camels in the desert and of course you have to sprinkle in a little media to frighten the parents.
Washington DC and New York was an amazing way to start off the trip. It gave the Israelis a chance to see some of our nation’s most recognizable monuments. It was also great to see Israeli and Jewish involvement in the community that we often don’t recognize.
Our Israeli adventure began in Jerusalem. Within the four days of being there we experienced the importance of the city to culture and religion. We also had free time in markets and traveled to Masada and the Dead Sea. In Tel Aviv we explored the historic port of Jaffa and of course we had to feel the beautiful Mediterranean water.
Overall this was the best trip ever. You don’t only learn things about others but also about yourself.
Everyone has an idea of Israel influenced by our individual backgrounds and experiences. In our school, we studied about Israel politics, history, culture, conflicts. We were told regularly when Israel was discussed, “it is not how the media displays it.” This is one of the reasons I wanted to go to Israel. I trust that the best way to learn is to go in person. I don’t know what my expectations were, but they definitely were impressed. Israel is alive, complex, diverse. There is a piece in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem by Olafur Eliasson called “Whenever the Rainbow Appears.” To me, this is an epitome of Israel. It consists of more than 300 individual hand painted boards spanning the light spectrum.
I made so many incredible friends and memories, some that will last a lifetime; from the bright lights and get togethers in America, to the beautiful mountains and waters of the Dead Sea, to the colorful markets and streets of Jerusalem, and to the long nights under the stars just hanging out with our Israeli friends. Our Israeli friends couldn’t have been more similar to ours, here in America. I thought: how could kids our age that live under so many different circumstances in the Middle East, be so similar to us, love what we do, and act like we do? It was incredible, for I also had the opportunity to experience true Israeli hospitality when I got sick in the middle of the markets, and the owner of a restaurant gave me free bags of tea and homemade remedies to clear my sickness.
I always heard about how dangerous Israel is and about all the tension, but the whole time we were there, I never felt safer. Every person I passed would smile and most people were genuinely nice. If I had to summarize the trip in one word I would say “family.” I felt that most people were looking out for me, just like family does, even if we didn’t know each other. Traveling to Israel brought me an entirely new perspective on the world. The atmosphere was entirely new and even if I had no clue as to what people were saying, it felt like home. I was able to try new food like falafel, I experienced life without a curfew, and I was taught tolerance in a whole new way. I don’t think there’s a nicer group of people than the people in Israel.
by Kathleen Laroue