Israel Programs We Were All Once Refugees, My Gesher Reflections

By Young Judaea

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

It was in the gift shop at the African Women’s Refugee Collective, Kushinate, that the feeling of what Tikkun Olam is really hit me. As I wandered around the shelves, I noticed that the words, “We Were All Once Refugees” were printed on all of the tags of the purses, baskets, and other crocheted items. Money from the items that are sold is used to support and help new immigrants, and this slogan made me think about how everyone, including Jews, have always needed to help each other.

You might think I would feel the most Jewish when I was standing at the Western wall putting in my prayer next to a hundred Jewish women doing just the same, but really it was underneath the Old City along the Kotel walls that I felt most connected to my Judaism. In the tunnels beneath modern life, I felt keenly aware and grateful of my ancestors who traveled along these walls so many thousands of years ago.

During my tour of the Kotel tunnels, my group and I were fortunate enough to view a new archaeological discovery that had only been released to the public three days before our arrival. The Corinthian fountains mounted on the wall were especially interesting to me, and I was so fascinated by the many things that we are still discovering today. Afterwards, when we made our way through the rest of the tour, we were brought to the holiest place I ever stepped foot in: A section of the western wall that had been the closest in proximity to the old Temple, the Holy of Holies.

One of the many ways that I found to connect me to my Israel experience and Jewish identity was spending time with the people I was with and doing this journey with them. Whether it was floating in the Dead Sea or hiking up Masada at 5am to get to the top just in time for sunrise, doing it with these friends by my side made this trip so incredible. Having Jewish peers is strongly important to me as we help each other reflect the values of our faith.

But it was in the everyday interactions with different kinds of Israelis that I feel like I understood what it means to help repair the world as a good Jew. When I thought about the phrase, “We Were All Once Refugees,” it brought home to me the journey that my ancestors made through the Negev to the Holy Land, through the Diaspora, to my family, and this opportunity to walk the lands of so many that have come before me. None of them could have done it alone. We all receive help along the way, and we all have to help each other. My time in Israel is something that I will never forget and though I hope to return some day, I bring the lesson of looking for ways to repair the world and help others no matter where I go.

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