Israel Programs Reinvigorated with a New Sense of Self on Gesher

By Young Judaea

Written by Sabrina Skolnick, 2021 Leaders of Tomorrow for Young Women Award Winner. This award is issued by Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America

My first trip to Israel was with my family at the age of six. Given my young age, I was not able to understand or absorb the special history, tradition, culture, and rich heritage of the Jews from all over the world who built the land of Israel from a Zionistic dream. Visiting Israel as a young adult of 17, knowing that my grandparents wanted to live there after surviving the camps, knowing that my great uncle fought in the Irgun, Israel has become so much more than another country. It is my homeland. From the memories of laughter to learning from the top of Masada to exploring King David’s tunnel with some of my closest friends, my Gesher experience has reinvigorated me with a new sense of self, further connecting me with my Jewish identity.

Although I was raised in a conservative Jewish household with traditional values, Judaism felt distant to me, almost as if I had yet to experience the full extent of what it means to be Jewish. So, when I boarded the plane headed towards Israel, I took a step back because I knew that this was the beginning of a new chapter in my life. This summer, I felt connected to something larger than myself. I formed real friendships that will hopefully last me a lifetime, and I went to activities led by madrichim who genuinely cared about creating a positive Israel experience. Every Havdalah, I would look around to see the faces of teens my age with similar stories mesmerized by the community we had built together, while we sang our hearts out to the timeless songs of Young Judaea. This trip to Israel provided a break from the stresses of my life (SAT/ACT exams, the college application process, etc.) while offering the appeal of a “safe space,” free of judgment, where — after 18 months of lockdown — I could “just be Sabrina.”

The daily rigorous activities on the Gesher Tour provided us, as individuals and as a group, with joy and emotional nourishment, with kinship and friendships, with relaxation and intellectual stimulation. From daily hiking to visiting many historically significant sites, some of my favorite memories were formed during the not-so-physical activities such as a deep conversation with someone I had just met by the campfire, to the day we spent at Aqua Kef, feeling free in our homeland. This trip expanded my mind, inviting new outlooks and perspectives that no textbook could teach me. On the whole, I have taken away a newfound sense of pride, understanding that being a Jewess means representing and supporting Israel and my history, taking a stand whenever possible against antisemitism.

We spent the last week in Tel Aviv, realizing that our trip was almost at its end. Nevertheless, it was filled with laughter and excitement. On the last night, there was a tone like no other. Unanimously, we were exhausted but emotionally content with our journey, so we celebrated our experience with each other, and thus I can only describe the last night as a perfect end to a perfect trip. Coming off from the plane from Israel was a surreal experience for me; now, I can say wholeheartedly I have never felt so connect to my Jewish faith.

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