Every life is invaluable, and every loss is a tragedy.

Jamie Smith of Lexington, Kentucky, is a rising Junior at Henry Clay High School and one of two Leaders of Tomorrow Awards from Hadassah, which awards a full scholarship to  young women to travel to Israel with Young Judaea’s teen summer programs.  She was introduced to Hadassah through her mother who is a past president of their local chapter. As one of only three Jewish students at her school, Jamie was excited about her opportunity to join Young Judaea’s ‘Discovery’ tour  to “explore her Judaism in the context of Israel and meet other Jewish teens who are leaders in their communities.”

Last time I wrote, we had only been in Israel for two days.  I’d seen Jerusalem and that was about it.  Don’t get me wrong, that was amazing, but now we have had opportunities to experience a fuller picture of Israel.

One night, we went on camel and donkey rides. That was probably one of my favorite parts of the week. That night, we stayed in the Bedouin tents. It was so much fun and such a unique cultural experience. The next morning, we woke up at 4 am (yes, you read that right) and hiked Masada to see the sun rise from the top. It was beautiful. We stood on the edge, just staring at the sun as it rose above the peaks of the mountains in the distance. That was a wonderful moment.

One of the more unifying moments of our group was when Naomi and I led our activity. We had people stand in a circle and step inside when a certain statement applied to them (such as “step in if  you have been made to feel uncomfortable because of the level of strictness/leniency with which you practice Judaism”). Our goal was to connect people and show how similar we all were in many aspects, but at the same time prove that people come from different backgrounds and have had different experiences to deal with in their lives. Although we were nervous, it went really well and was actually a nice bonding time.

Now, a more serious note. After our intense repelling and hiking experience, we talked about the current conflicts going on in Israel. Our counselor, Hillary, read us Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Hamas. We all discussed what we thought the outcomes would be. Many of us agreed that although the situation is scary, we are not worried for ourselves, but rather, for Israel. Having been in Israel during times like this, we feel so much closer to the country. Our tour guide for Kibbutz Ketura, Yuval, was drafted during our stay there and left unexpectedly. This makes us much more invested in the events of the impending conflict. It is not only the outcome we are concerned with, but also the casualties along the way. Every life is invaluable, and every loss is a tragedy. This is what worries us.

I said I was worried yesterday when I originally wrote this, but now I feel I need to add an important experience into this blog. It only makes sense. I was with a few friends by the vending machines in the hostel when the sirens went off. It took us a second to register the noise, but when we did, we had a split second moment of staring, open-mouthed, at each other in disbelief before we ran. Someone said “go” and we sprinted down the stairs and dove under an alcove under the stairs. We lay there until the sirens stopped, then waited two more minutes, just as we had been told. Eventually, another man came and led us to the bomb shelter, where we sat for a bit, all just hugging each other and many of us still in shock. I honestly didn’t know how far removed I felt from the situation in Israel until this happened. Now I know. I felt completely separate, as if there was no chance we would have a missile come anywhere near us. I know better now. We all do.