Leor (center front) with her friends on Machon in Israel
As I was looking out at the holiest place for the Jewish people with the sun beating on my back and my best friends surrounding me, I began to cry. In that moment, I felt so blessed to be where I was. Right then, I felt the closest to G-d that I have ever felt. Right then, I realized that this trip, my journey through Israel, is going to be a life-changing experience. Before I say anything further, I would like to take a moment to thank Hadassah for this amazing opportunity and making my participation on Machon possible through the Leaders of Tomorrow Award; I am forever grateful.
Now that we have finally arrived in Israel, I can finally write about all of the good stuff! After a ten hour plane ride to Israel, 52 of us landed cheering and singing Havenu Shalom Alechem. We got off the plane and immediately headed to an overlook over Jerusalem. From there, we began traveling down south towards the Dead Sea. After a long day all we wanted to do was sleep, but our trip organizers had other plans for us.
Before I describe anything else, I want to take you back a few days. Our entire journey started last Thursday at Camp Tel Yehudah. Everyone going on Machon finally came together from the various YJ camps that we were working at, and others joined us from home. We spent two days at Tel Yehudah bonding as a group and experiencing normal camp activities – we went on low ropes, experienced Shabbat and went crazy during rikkud (dancing) with the whole camp – but in the back of our minds, we were all thinking about going to Israel in just a few days.
The next morning, we woke up bright and early — we were so excited to start our trip. We headed to Ein Gedi where we took a long hike through the hot desert. At the end of the hike, we arrived at a beautiful waterfall. Our counselor described how holy Ein Gedi was. It is said that Ein Gedi is where King Saul and King David finally confronted each other and realized that their loyalty was more important than power. After the long and strenuous hike, it felt so refreshing to get into the cold water. The fun did not stop there. We hiked back and went straight into the Dead Sea.
After a great salty swim in the Dead Sea, we headed towards the Bedouin tents where we would spend the rest of the day and night. We got to ride camels, and we also learned all about the Bedouin culture. It was very interesting to learn about this unique culture within Israel, which I knew very little about before. We then had the best meal that we’ve had so far – we sat down on the floor like the traditional Bedouin and were presented with a platter filled with rice, potatoes and all kinds of meats, which we ate with our hands. It was absolutely delicious. Later that night, the entire group went out into the middle of the desert and stargazed. The sky was so clear and was lit up by thousands of stars, which you could see because there was no artificial light.
The next morning, Wednesday, we woke up at 3:45 AM. I know it sounds crazy, but we were going to Masada, and nobody minded because we were hiking up the mountain to see a beautiful sunrise. We were all so excited and when we got to the top we saw the most incredible sunrise. I did this same hike when I was 12 years old, and was very excited to do it again. I thought the first time was amazing, but this time it was even more incredible and meaningful. While on top of Masada, we learned all about the history of Masada and the people that lived there. We had an intense discussion about whether the decision to commit suicide was a courageous or a selfish act. Although we didn’t all agree, it was a very interesting discussion. After Masada, we went to Kibbutz Keturah, which was founded by a group of Young Judaens in 1973 and is a unique kibbutz which holds many of the same values as young Judaea. In 1990, my mom spent the summer at Ketura studying and working. It is so empowering how so many different people can come together to acheive a common goal.
For our night activity last night, we went to the sand dunes in the Negev. We played around and rolled in the warm and very soft sand. We then had the opportunity to sit by ourselves and reflect on life. It was such a meaningful experience to just look out into the desert where the Jews wandered for 40 years. We then broke into small groups and talked about what we each thought about during our individual time. Everyone shared their different feelings and we all felt more bonded together. Then, my small group spontaneously started singing the Shema together. It was one of the most beautiful and spiritual experiences of my life.
So far, this trip has been absolutely amazing. I have already learned so much about Israel’s history and culture that I didn’t know before and I am so excited to learn more. Israel is an amazing country, but experiencing it with my best friends, at this stage of my life, and on a program like Machon, is even more incredible. I cannot wait to see what the rest of this trip has in store for me and the people with me on Machon.