Youth Confess: The Israel Experience During War Time

This summer several Orange County teens had Israel experiences this summer with the help of Federation scholarships. While in transit, the sirens went off. They were there, and they saw Israel furing war time. They are now home safely with a lot to talk about.  These are their stories:

Israel Reflection Essay  by Benjamin Nakagawa

This summer I had the most incredible experiences of my life. I traveled the world, made lifelong friends, learned about the history of my people, and strengthened my faith in Judaism. I was able to experience Israel in a way that all Israelis spend their lives-- in a time of war. It was new to hear the sirens go off, run into bomb shelters, and see the Iron Dome shoot down rockets. We truly put our lives into the hands of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

I loved the tourist attractions that we visited like the Dead Sea, Bedouin tents, and Ben Yehuda Street, but the conflict with Hamas and the response of the IDF allowed me to gain a deeper understanding and connection to Israel and its struggle to exist. Every person on the trip was allowed to choose a Chavaya, or adventure trip to go on for four days. I chose Gadna, which is the Army training that is run by the IDF. This Chavaya stood out to me because I aspire to go to Annapolis, the United States Naval Academy and I wanted to see how the Israeli military differed to ours.

In Gadna we stood in a het formation with all of the other teams,  sang Haktiva, and I was chosen to lead my team. After Gadna I viewed my travels through Israel differently because I really valued and appreciated seeing the beautiful sights and being able to pray at the Kotel. Those experiences wouldn’t have been possible without the sacrifices of the Israeli soldiers and I am proud of their dedication to our great homeland.

I would like to thank the Jewish Federation of Greater Orange County for their generous scholarship, which allowed me to travel to Prague, Poland, and Israel, and walk through history as history was being made. 

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by Chanel Shirazi

I started off my L'dor V'dor adventure with a week in Europe. Arriving in the Czech Republic, I was amazed by the ancient architecture and how well everything was preserved from the past. In Poland, I formed a connection with the Jewish community. I spent my first Shabbat services at a local Jewish heritage museum where I met some of the habitants from the jewish community who live there today. It was so interesting to compare and contrast our traditions with theirs. It was a night full of music and joy. That night I felt that I wasn't singing with complete
strangers, I was together with my jewish family from around the world. We stood together facing east towards Israel and said the Shema.

The Holocaust always fascinated me. In Czech Republic, myself and the other 45 teens from my group, went to Terezin, also know as " the
children's camp". It was uncomfortable realizing that this place of dehumanization has now been transformed to a normal town where residents live. Then, we made our way to Auschwitz. The feeling of walking in on train tracks is indescribable. My Mishpucha, my family, as my group called itself, got through that emotional day together. It was especially painful because I had friends whose grandparents were once imprisoned there as children. My friend called his grandmother crying after we left. As we got ready to exit, my councilor said, "Now lets do something that the people here were never able to do. Let's leave." 

My time in Europe was short, but compact with memories. There were two things I was sure of before embarking to Israel: I had learned so much about my history, and that I was ready!  I knew I would float in the dead sea, and challenge myself to climbing the highest mountain in the Negev Desert and enjoy some mouth watering falafel. I knew, that the moment I would land in Israel, I would immediately feel that strong connection that each jew has when they first step foot onto jewish soil. 

I was filled with excitement at my arrival in Israel, but I did not feel that special connection to the land as I thought I would. I waited.

Running into the Mediterranean sea was so much fun; we spent our time splashing in the water and taking pictures of the scenic view. The Negev desert was an experience of a lifetime. At the top of my climb up Mt. Shlomo, I took a 360 look around. On my right was Egypt, in front of me was Saudi Arabia and to my left was Jordan. It made me realize how small the land is and that is a moment that I will never forget. Rolling down sand dunes was fun, but having sand EVERYWHERE wasn't. The day I went to the Shuk I was able to see my sister Ashley, who is studying for her masters degree at Tel Aviv University. It was amazing, we were able to eat falafel together and be together in the
jewish homeland.

The following day I was up at 3:45 in the morning ready to go on a hike to Masada, and then onto the Dead Sea. Another favorite time of mine was going to a city called Zipori. It was a unique place because Jews and Romans lived in peaceful co-exhistance. I found it to tell such a beautiful story. I chose to participate in a tikun olam experience. I cleaned a beach, made seats for the kibbutz I was at, helped build a mosaic for a cerebral palsy children's school and socialized with adults with special needs. It was a personally rewarding and special experience.

One of my final days in Israel was spent at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum. It was designed with symbolism depicted everywhere you looked. Something that stays with me to this day, was the view from the exit of the museum. When you walk out, you are leaving on a slope, you are walking up and out to overlook the Jerusalem forest. The museum accentuated this, they wanted to make you feel relieved to be out, as if you were going through a journey, finally reaching the light. It was a surprisingly spiritual moment. Our trip ended with a visit to Har Hertzel and the cemetery to honor those who have fallen for Israel.

Somehow I feel that I was meant to be in Israel during the Gaza conflict. It made me see Israel in a new way. Being in Israel, I formed a strong
connection with the people of Israel. I was inspired by the courage and devotion and sacrifice of the people that I saw on a daily basis. While I heard air raid sirens, I felt completely safe. The Israeli defense force is more then just an army, it is our brothers and sisters protecting our home. Israel will always be a part of me. I know that I will take my NFTY summer with me wherever I go in life, and I will always stand with Israel.

This experience would have been impossible without the aid and support from the Jewish Federation of Orange County. They supported me throughout my decision to go to Israel. I would like to thank everyone who put in the hard work for me to go and for the generous financial gift that I received. The prayers and support that was sent out to Israel during the Gaza conflict gave me a feeling of peace and that my community here in Orange County was with me all along. I am forever grateful to the federation. They allowed me to have the best summers of my life.
 

Chanel, center

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"Expect the Unexpected" by Samantha Gottlieb

When we entered Israel, we spent four days and three nights in the Negev, where we began our historical education of Israel itself with Am Yisrael and began our daily excursions into Israeli life. Of course we all knew about the Arab-Israeli conflict before entering, for how can you be a Jewish teen and not know remotely anything? Well, one way or another, everyone found out things they wouldn’t have imagined this summer, especially with the acceleration of the war. It was honestly the strangest thing to physically be in the land that is always on the news, the land that is a place of solitude for the basis of three monotheistic religions and the place that is always sought to be destroyed; yet it stays. To be in this land that is the talk of the world is a peculiar feeling because instead of being on the viewing end of it, for once we are the people on the receiving or producing end of it.  

Of course we had other things than the conflict to focus on during our trip, like the fabulous time that we’d be spending shopping. We were constantly looking for a way to contact with our friends and family, searching through Israeli news, purchasing gifts for our friends and family as well as ourselves (some pampering every now and then can be good for anyone), going on educational trips, and getting to know one another.

 This summer I traveled to THREE countries and for someone who hadn’t been on a plane except to Florida, this was a lot to take in. The first 8 hour plane ride to the 3 hour, to the 7 hour and all over again for our ride home was absolutely insane. The running from airport to airport, moving from hotel to hotel/kibbutz to kibbutz, bus-ride to bus-ride and home to home has been my summer. NFTY’s  L’dor V’dor Program has given me the experiences that I never thought I would have. The trip itself was almost dream-esque, with my memories and photos serving as proof.  My sincere thanks to the Jewish Federation of Greater Orange County and the Jack and Jessica Blinkoff Scholarship Fund for helping me to get to each place that I traveled. Europe to Israel, hotel to hotel, kibbutz to kibbutz, concentration camp to Beit Kenesset to the Kotel; תודה רבה לך. Thank you so much!

Group eleven at the Ahava statue (part of the museum with the Dead Sea scrolls, which we were literally in for about five minutes before they closed)

Headlining Photo: Samantha hiking Har Shlomo. "I wanted to cry because I was so exhausted, but happy I made it. My friend caught the moment when the flag was blowing in the wind and looked like a cape. I looked like a superhero. The heroine of Israel."