Summer Programs Alyssa’s Fresh Look at Jewish Geography

By Young Judaea
Alyssa with new friends from Onward in Tel Aviv
Alyssa with friends from Onward in Tel Aviv

They say that everything happens for a reason: there is a reason for every person who walks into your life, every event that happens during it, and why you are where you are when you are.  I feel that between the three times I have been in Israel, the timing was not coincidental. I was here for a three-week leadership training experience in summer 2012, I went on Birthright in January, and I came back for even more this summer.  Each of my times in Israel has been very different, including the places I have stayed and seen and the people I have experienced everything with, yet one thing remained constant: I always tend to find people that I know in the most random of places.  Israel, unlike New York City, is not a forty-minute train ride away from my home in New Jersey; it is a ten-hour PLANE ride, a casual halfway around the world.  Though Israel is the Jewish homeland and is not the largest country in the world, the chances of two people being in the same place within the country are very slim.   How is it that every time I visit Israel, I always tend to run into old friends in the Old City of Jerusalem, the middle of the Negev Desert, in hotel lobbies, and even volunteering at a tomato farm? Two words: Jewish geography.

Everybody knows Jewish Geography as the concept that all Jews know each other and are somehow interconnected.  Yes, that encompasses the “Jewish” part of things.  However, we tend to forget the “geography” part, besides listing off names of people we know from your town.  Geography encompasses where in the world you are from as well as where in the world you are, and where better than in the Jewish homeland for Jewish Geography to come into play?  In the five weeks I have been here, I have seen 18 people I know from home, including an old friend from BBYO on the plane ride (we also met up one night in Tel Aviv), more friends from BBYO, a handful of friends on Birthright trips, and about four people that I went on my first Israel trip with.  That’s right, three years later we all ended up under the same roof in the same country where it all began, all participants in different cohorts of Onward Israel.

In 2012, five participants from New Jersey, California, Ohio, and Pennsylvania went to Israel on the same program, and in 2015, they all found themselves under the same roof at Onward Israel Connections Day.  Three years prior, the same love of Israel had been instilled into five different Jewish teenagers, which made them all want to live and intern in that same place.  Find me a happier coincidence than to run into a handful of people that you experienced Israel with for the first time right back in the same place, nonetheless all together.  It is pretty incredible how Israel ignites, fosters, and rekindles relationships with people in your life, and because of that I look forward to seeing who I find in the streets of Tel Aviv during these next three weeks.

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