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.”
Having just begun our journey in Israel, I want to talk about that. But first, Greece was amazing and I just can’t wait to tell you about it. We left the airport at 4 pm eastern standard time, and arrived in Greece at 9 am their time. That should’ve set us up for a rough beginning (especially because nobody slept on the plane), and we probably did resemble zombies, but we bonded over that so it turned out all right. The two hour nap also helped.
Anyway, by far the most amazing part so far has been the people. It only took a day and a half for us to feel completely comfortable around each other and that has been really cool. We have only known each other for three days, but we act like its been years. I am amazed by the strength of the bonds we have built so quickly. When someone starts dancing, we all join in and create a fun, open environment for ourselves. I love the people here.
Now, about the actual country of Greece. Although Athens was also incredible, the islands were the most fun and had the best sights. When you Google a typical picture of Greece, you see the cute towns on the mountainside and all the shops right on the water. This picture was the view we saw and it was surreal after all the pictures found on Google images. Long story short, I had a great time and I saw a beautiful country and I met a lot of amazing people.
But then came what the trip was really about: Israel. Before our first view of Jerusalem, we had blindfolds on (aka shirts tied around our heads) and we held hands and climbed onto a lookout spot. Finally, we all took off our blindfolds simultaneously and it was a fantastic moment. Well, almost. The sun was positioned just so when we took off our blindfolds we were blinded. Then, however, we saw a picturesque view of Jerusalem. We were able to take amazing pictures with our amazing new friends, then we drank wine (grape juice) and ate challah. I think I can speak for most of us when I say we were very connected in that moment.
After an incredible Shabbat full of relaxing and bonding time, we started early this morning on our journey to the Western Wall. Our notes written on bright neon paper, we each walked up to the wall and put our prayers inside, like so many before us, and had our individual moments of connection with Judaism in the way that can only happen at that special place. What was almost more meaningful than my own connection, at least to me, was watching the others around me live in their own time and space of peace and holiness, if only for a second or two.
Now, sitting here on the bus looking out the window at the Dead Sea and the desert on our way to the Bedouin tents, I can’t help but think about how glad I am to be able to experience these connections with my religion with the people that are on Nitzachon with me. Tomorrow we are climbing Masada and floating in the Dead Sea so I’m in for a busy (but fun, of course) day. I’ll be sure to tell you all about it next week!