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.”
Israel so far has been absolutely amazing. It’s hard to believe the trip is already halfway over, but it is. Between the friends I’ve made and the experiences we’ve shared, it seems like we have lived in Israel for such a long time. At the same time, though, it has gone by so fast. This week we have done some more amazing activities in the north.
One day, we went rafting on the Jordan River. Well, most people went rafting. My friend and I got out to push the raft because we were hardly moving. So, of course, our raft decides to ditch us in the Jordan River fully clothed (shoes included) to fend for ourselves. We knew it was a three kilometer hike (as we now refer to it), and we knew that we weren’t very far in when they ditched us. At one point, there was a photographer, so we asked him how much further and all he said was “much more.” We probably ended up hiking through around two kilometers of the Jordan River, and by the end there were six of us who had been ditched by our rafts. When we saw the end, we started singing and laughing together. It was actually a really fun time (even though we showed up 30 minutes late).
Possibly the more interesting thing we did this entire week was have a coexistence seminar with a group of Arab Israeli teens. We got to talk to them for about an hour and it was fascinating to see their views on the current conflict occurring and life for an Arab in Israel in general. Many shared conspiracy theories about the kidnapping of the three Israeli boys, sharing their belief that it was planned by the Israeli government to give the media a story that would hurt Hamas in the world’s view. Even though some of the things they said were very different from our own opinions on them, it was still interesting to look from their perspective.
Something else we talked about with them was our belief in God. All of them said they did believe, and many of us said we didn’t. They seemed confused that we didn’t, and at one point one girl mentioned that she was scared of people who don’t believe in God. We also just talked about teenager stuff, like music and TV. It was fun to make connections with people who we usually see as so different from ourselves.
The next day, we got to do something similar, except this time with Israeli teens that had been temporarily relocated to youth hostels because of their proximity to Gaza and other dangerous areas. When we talked to them, they said that they hated all Arabs and wanted them all gone. It was somewhat understandable that they couldn’t see that there are innocent Arabs, given that they had been removed from their homes because of the conflict with Arabs, but it was still interesting to see how completely biased they were against all Arabs.
Finally, we were fortunate enough to get to walk around Tzfat for a little while this week. After listening to a man, Avraham, explain Jewish mysticism and his connection to it (which was, by the way, fascinating), we got to eat good Israeli food and shop in the cute little marketplace for presents for our friends and family back home. Tzfat was very spiritual and it was amazing to get to see the type of people who live there, along with the actual city itself.
These, along with several other hikes and a visit to the olive oil factory were some of the main things we did this week. We also had our free weekend, which was very relaxing and involved a lot of sleeping. Now that we’ve had the chance to catch up on rest, we have special interest week next week, where we split up based on what we signed up for. I’ll be doing community service next week, and I can’t wait to serve Israeli society.