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.”
It’s hard to believe that the trip is already over. Four weeks gone, just like that. Of course, it wasn’t just four weeks on a bus in Israel with the same people. In addition to a few days in Greece before meeting the second half of the bus, we also had one week, called Special Interest Week, where we spent our time in one of four optional week-long options. Some of my bus-mates did Gadna, a simulated training for the IDF that all Israeli high school students go through. Others climbed mountains and hiked from the Mediterranean Sea to the Galilee, and others took classes and dove in the Red Sea while getting their scuba diving certifications. I participated in Tikkun Olam¸ a week of volunteering in Jerusalem, that included some pretty amazing service projects.
The first day, we went to an organization called Shekel. Shekel is a factory where disabled people make crafts to sell. In addition to giving them a productive activity and a supportive social group, Shekel strives to give people that are so often considered dependent, a sense of accomplishment and pride in their work. We got to work alongside some of Shekel’s participants and meet them. Many of them spoke English well so it was easy to communicate. I soon found out that this was one of the sweetest groups of people I’d ever met. One woman told me that she had moved from London to Jerusalem. We talked for hours about what she missed from England, whether I like chocolate cake a la mode, and about her interests and mine. At the end of the visit she told me to come visit her soon. One man I met taught my friends and I a little bit of Hebrew and we taught him a fist bump handshake. It was beautiful to get to see how happy all of these people were and it was equally beautiful to see how happy they made us. It was nice to feel like I had made someone’s day a little bit better and felt that I had taken a lot from them as well.
The next day, we volunteered at a community garden. We helped build two knee-high rows of mulch in a field for plants that would help save more of the water on the rare occasion that it rains. Basically, the rows would cause the water to slow down (it was a downhill slope) and allow more water to drain into the ground instead of just running into the street. It was hard work because we were shoveling and digging into the ground on a hot day in Israel, so that made the experience all the more memorable. We all felt accomplished when we could see the results and the manager of the garden thanked us for helping him finish his project. We won’t get to see it when plants actually grow there, but I hope the people who live around it enjoy the plants.
The last two days, we helped out with something called the Ethiopian Bar/Bat Mitzvah project. It gives Ethiopian children who have immigrated to Israel the opportunity to have a bar/bat mitzvah. They get paired with Bnei Mitzvah from Britain and are taught everything necessary to become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. We had the opportunity to teach them some Hebrew songs and then attend their B’nai Mitzvah. It was amazing seeing how excited all the kids were to sing the prayers and become Bnei mitzvah. After the ceremony, we got to dance with them and we all had so much fun. Tikkun olam means healing the world, and with our work in special interest week, I feel like we took some small but important steps to healing the world. I learned a lot, and I’m glad I chose tikkun olam as my special interest week option.