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.”
I’ve been home for a while now – school has started, as will swimming soon – and my life has descended back into its usual chaotic routine, but I am not the same. Everything seems so unreal now, because for me, Israel was reality. I feel like I should be devoting all my time to advocating for Israel, but instead I spend every day sitting in a classroom learning material that seems of little importance compared to the war and conflict raging in the Middle East. I chat with my friends about homework and favorite teachers, but I constantly check my phone for the latest news about tunnels and cease fire proposals. My life and daily routine has taken on a new sense of smallness, its problems paling in comparison to those halfway around the world.
So I guess you could say my relationship to Israel has changed. Most importantly, I understand what’s going on. That had always been my biggest barrier in the past- I knew the general everyone-hates-Israel idea, but I wasn’t informed about the specifics of each operation, or what had happened to break each attempt at a cease fire. I didn’t know how many rockets were being fired a day; I didn’t know the casualty counts from both sides, it just seemed so far removed from me that I didn’t bother spending time looking it up. That has changed. Now I care so much more than I used to about the safety of Israel. Near the end of the trip, my friends and I were talking about if we wanted to serve in the army. No one really wanted to, but we all agreed that if we served in an army it would be the IDF, not the United States army. It was an easy question to answer for all of us.
I miss Israel, and I do really want to go back. One of the main things I miss, though, is my friends. The bonds I developed in just a month are stronger than many of those I have here in Lexington, where I have lived my whole life. We have all been making every effort to see each other- planning college visits in cities where our friends live, visiting family near these cities-everything we can do to be close enough to see each other just for a little while. The amazing thing is that I know that if I need somewhere to stay in another city or town, I will always be able to find a friend who can help me out. Whether its New York, LA, Boston, or any other number of places around the country, there will be a familiar face there to greet me. Its so cool that I can say that I have friends from around the country- and even from a few other countries. The entire trip was an amazing opportunity to make friends that will last a lifetime.
Nitzachon impacted my life in so many ways, and I made memories that I will never forget. I love and care about Israel so much now, and I have tons of new friends who I know I will find a way to see again. I am so thankful to have had this opportunity to experience Israel in ways I never imagined. Though we didn’t get to see all of Israel, we really did have a true Israeli experience- probably even more so than we would have without the war. Even with all that ignored, I really will never forget my first time overseas, spent in a country I love with people I love.