Naomi Farahan of Carmel, Indiana, is a rising senior at University High School. She is the founder and editor in chief of the U Post – her high school’s online publication, president of the Young Democrats Club and participates in a number of other activities. Naomi has a close connection to Israel and has always been an advocate for the country. This summer, she is traveling Israel with Young Judaea’s Discovery program, after receiving theHadassah Leaders of Tomorrow Award. This highly selective merit-based award gives two high school women the opportunity to receive full tuition for a four-week Young Judaea Teen Summer Program in Israel.
I’m sitting here, exploring metaphors about tourist attractions, and I feel like I’m lying about my Israel experience. Those metaphors seem like a world away. We hiked up Masada, floated in the Dead Sea, and lived on a Kibbutz for two days. I saw colors I don’t know the names of and experienced moments of true silence, true self-reflection and peace. But in the days since, I caught true glimmers of what it means to live in Israel.
Yesterday we spent our last night in Naharia. Shabbat was complicated; we were in the hostel as a result of last minute safety concerns. Our counselors spent the past week juggling news updates with schedule changes in order to provide the safest trip possible. But it is tense here. It is as if we are constantly contorting ourselves in order to be tourists here. Our itenirarary is flexible, shifting as the political climate bloats with tension.
If you’re reading this, I’m sure you know that a rocket hit in an area near our hostel in Naharia. I wish I reacted quicker. I wish I had known that the siren meant more than a tornado warning in a nearby county, but my brain is not synced with the land here. It took two seconds for me to recognize what was happening around me. I shouted out and sprinted down the stairs to find a small alcove beneath the staircase. I must have looked like an electrocuted cartoon, shaking and praying until we got the signal to run to the nearest bomb shelter. But I found safety in my friends’ presence. For the rest of our lives, we would look back on this moment and remember that we came out of it together.
I feel exceedingly guilty. At the end of this trip, I’m going back home to Carmel, Indiana. I will feel comfortable amongst the familiar cornfields and dairy farms. So, I can say that I am immersed in Israeli society. I can tell you that I am experiencing the culture, that I have been welcomed as a part of this impenetrable sense of unity. Much of this is true. But in reality, I’m just a visitor. I’m just the observer who happened to get her boots dirty. I just hope this experience propels me to become a better leader in the future.
But our week has also been a series of inside jokes, feelings of awe, and reflective activities. Last week, Jamie (your other faithful blogger) and I lead an activity with the rest of the group. We had everyone stand in a circle, and asked them to step forward when we mentioned statements that applied to their personal identities. For instance, we read the statement: “If you laughed when a friend made a Jewish joke, step into the circle.” We asked the group to pay close attention to what made them surprised and uncomfortable about everyone’s responses. This provided a sense of connectivity. Every one of us has a Jewish identity that is unique and significant. At the same time, we are not alone in our questions and cultural practices. Group discussions stressed this sense of unity as we reflected on our relationships to the questions asked.
In the Negev, we tumbled down the side of a sand dune. We sled down the hill as if we were back at home, pretending not to know the words to Christmas songs. Our water bottles, contact lenses, and fingernails collected sand. My hair still contains traces of the Negev, despite my consistent showering. While we were there, our tour guide had us sit quietly in the desert. It was not an instinct to funnel out AP scores and blisters. Rather, we yearned to be at peace, we ached to find pieces of ourselves in the wind as it whipped past our ears.
We came out of this week as a more unified, informed, and experienced group of people. Our memories will be tainted, but they will last through the years. They will play a pivotal role in shaping our identities. We have played the part of Israelis, no matter how inaccurate our portrayal might have been. Our dedication to our ideals has been tested, and we have come out stronger as a result.