Scholarship to Israel Was a Roundtrip Ticket to the 'Best Summer of My Life'

When Lev Freedman landed in Israel in summer 2012 - he felt happy and at home. It wasn't his first romp in the desert and it wasn't his first trip to the Holy Land. Lev - a junior at Newburgh Free Academy - had made the pilgrimage with his parents (his father is a rabbi in Newburgh) but it was a first for him in that he traveled through Israel for three weeks with a group of his peers.

The trip was thanks to a Youth-to-Israel scholarship provided by the Jewish Federation of Greater Orange County. The Federation has several different types of scholarships including merit and needs-based. It was a gift that granted the young adverturer what he calls, "The Best Summer.." of his life.

It wasn't my first swim in the Mediterranean. It wasn't my first time in the Negev. And, it wasn't my firsy glimpse of Jerusalem. My friends' faces lit up as they saw new and beautiful sights. In many of their eyes Jerusalem's beatiful skyline was fresh. It was dazzling - more so than any city they had ever laid eyes on.

Tower of David (rights free photo)

We were led through the outskirts of Jerusalem's walls, blindfolded and in single file. We heard nothing but each other's footsteps on the hot pavement. The scorching sun was tamed by my hat's brim. My hands began to sweat beneath the grasp on the person in front of me. As we slowed to a stop, our blindfolds were removed. And, somehow despite my experience the view of the city's golden buildings was equally awe-inspiring as it had been years earlier. Its golden dome shined even brighter than I remembered. Three weeks later on our last night we filled the room with laughter - maybe we were trying to ignore the sadness of leaving. When 1:00am rolled around all of Israel was quiet. The warm breeze hit us each individually. It was my 7th summer with these people and it was abruptly coming to a close. Somehow despite our background, our faces shined even brighter than the year before. Israel was ten times as special with them, and we were ten times as special in Israel.

Our Israeli guide Omer passed out postcards. We wrote notes to ourselves to remind us of our experiences in the Holy Land. Omer will send the card now in time for Chanukkah - every day I am reassured that the postcard will bring me back to the summer, the best summer of my life. Lev plays the drums for NFA's Wind Ensemble, Jazz Band and Percussion Ensemble. He has also been on the varsity and tennis teams. He spent 6 summers at Crane Lake and plans to return this summer. He is Vice President of membership for his youth group 'NewTY' and serves as the activities chairperson for NIFTY-GER. *The Jack and Jessica Blinkoff scholarship provides one teen with an all expenses paid trip, not including spending money. The application deadline is January 31, 2013. For more info visit the website. First-time travelers to Israel ages 18 -26 with a Jewish heritage may also be eligible for the Taglit Birthright's free 10-day program. Check out the website for more info.

The old city (rights free photo) reprinted c/o the We are One publication (Dec 2012)

Edited by Jamie S.