Saturday, July 18, 2015

Yad Vashem, Shuk and Shabbat in Jerusalem: Our Final Blog

What a phenomenal adventure that we have all been on the last 5 weeks!!  It's now time to say goodbye to this incredible trip and one that has changed us all for the better.  These ISTers have been absolutely amazing and you will be able to tell by their last blog posts and the impact that this trip has had on them.  A few words from one of my favorite summer camp songs and sums up our entire trip.  Enjoy the final blog and see you on Sunday!!

Bless this house, for we are all together. 
Bless us all. We may not meet again. 
Think of all the happiness we've found here. 
Take it home and share it with a friend.

Come along, sing a song
And we'll never say good-bye. 
Soon you'll see, and agree 
Friendships won will never die.

Blog post by Lucy Kodish

Kehilah Kedosha at the Kotel First Day in Israel What's so special about a wall? I mean I get that it's old, I get that it has religious significance, but at the end of the day it's a wall. Before visiting the Kotel for the first time, I didn't understand what the big deal was. I'd learned about it in Sunday school, I'd seen pictures and heard stories about how incredible thIs wall is, but none of it really made sense. Honestly, i wasn't all that excited to vIsit the western wall on our first day in Israel. The sun was beating dOwn and i was tired and delirious from jet lag. But as we got closer and closer to the wall, things began to change. I heard people speaking Hebrew. I heard people speaking English. I heard people speaking many other unidentifiable languages. I saw people from countless different backgrounds. Different ages different cultures different countries. I was getting my first taste of a Kehilah Kedosha. A holy community. As I approached the wall I didn't know what to feel, so I just sat down in a chair and watched. I watched as people prayed and cried and smiled. Then, the IST staff delivered letters from family members. As I read the notes an overwhelming sense of family washed over me. And I don't just mean parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings. I am talking about the entire jewish people, my kehilah Kedosha.
2nd to last day in Israel. Today we visited the Kotel again. Now I can truly say that I not only observed a kehilah Kedosha, I have become part of it. On Shabbat people come from far and wide to pray and celebrate at the western wall. Orthodox men stand next to soldiers in uniform. Young children coexist with the elderly. Everyone comes together to form something that can only be experienced first hand. There is no way to completely describe dancing and singing at the top of my lungs with many thousands of Jews from all over the world. There are no words to explain how proud I am to be jewish, to be part of this kehilah Kedosha.

Yad Vashem (Israel Holocaust Museum)

Hearing from a Holocaust survivor

Blog Post by Jake Sherman
With the final hours left of my journey into the holy land, the land of our fore fathers and fore mothers (a favorite phrase of our wonderful tour guide Elaun), coming to a close, I'm left to wonder how I have changed my perception of Israel and the Jewish people. Perhaps to the dismay of many, I can't say that I am imbued with a new religious fervor or rampant Zionism, but rather I have realized what it feels to be proud of one's Jewish heritage.
Growing up Jewish, I was sent to Sunday school (which I never liked), had a bar mitzvah, and eventually found my place in a Jewish youth group. A pretty standard Jewish life for a person of my age. However, my Jewish and secular lives are entirely separate. I have Jewish friends and school friends, mutually exclusive. While I was not necessarily ashamed of my Judaism, I was definitely not proud of it. I am the Jewish one among my friends; a place I was happy to fill but never flaunt.
Upon arriving a Cherry Creek, I noticed a student there. He wears his kippa everyday. I have no idea if he is a good person or not, if he is religious or not, but I always admired the courage it took for him to wake up and silently explain to the world with his kippa that he was not afraid of being different, being Jewish.
Suddenly, when I arrived in Israel it all made sense. Although a minority in the world, the Jews are at home in Israel. You can't walk 100 meters without happening upon men with various styles and colors of kippot. When the Russian czar forced Jews to wear Shtreimel, we embraced the hat, making it a head covering for Chasidic to wear on Shabbat and other holidays. All the Chasidic men at the Kotel wear it with pride even today. When our ethic group was threatened with extermination during the Holocaust, we founded Israel only a few years after the end of World War II. To make it simple, Jews make lemonade out of lemons (for lack of a less cliche analogy).
The kippa is not only a sign that God is always above our heads but rather as a symbol of the tenacity of the Jewish race. We wear them proudly upon our heads now for all the people who, in the past, had that right stripped from them. I wore my kippa all the way to the Kotel and no one seemed to notice or care. It was normal. Everyone is proud. However, walking around the halls in Creek I'm sure people, even the Jews, would glance a second time at my head covering. Outside of Israel, it is a rarity to find a Jew proud of his ancestry and religion or at least one who is willing to display it so publicly. When I first came to the Kotel almost a month ago now, I felt no connection to it at all and frankly it pissed me off because I wanted so badly to have felt something. And walking there tonight I hoped more than anything that this time would be different. I never even touched the wall when I went this time. I walked into the men's section and was heartily greeted by an Orthodox man who gave me a siddur (which I quickly dropped off in a nearby chair). I timidly walked around circles of men and soldiers loudly and proudly singing songs for Shabbat. I felt awkward and unwelcome, but then it clicked. I stumbled into the circle, arms around strangers as if we had known each other our whole lives, and soon so did other ISTers. We jumped around, butchered some songs, and laughed. Soon a group of boys from Mexico barged into a circle adding their unique flavor.
I looked around and saw all the different Jews in the plaza. Different sects, races, sizes, shapes all praying as the Jewish people in their own way. I had never felt so proud to be a Jew. It was not the wall that had impacted me but rather the people. The power of the Kotel was not the wall itself of the strength of the people by which it faced. The Kotel is a reflection of the entity that it represents. The power of the Kotel was not the wall itself but the strength of the people by which it faced.

Machane Yehuda (Jerusalem Shuk)

Blog Post by Ira Weiss

This evening, we spent time at the Kotel for Shabbat. We started our time at the wall participating in a Kabbalat Shabbat service all together. We then got to experience something very cool as an IST family. Elaun helped lead a bat mitzvah for Sofie because she had never had one. After our Kabbalat Shabbat together and Sofie's bat mitzvah, we all headed to the wall. Shabbat had already started at this point and everyone was praying and dancing by the wall. Men with men and women with women. The first thing I saw was a large circle of IDF soldiers all singing and dancing by the wall with a man in the middle waving a large Israeli flag. As I got closer, it got more and more amazing to see. The soldiers were all singing and dancing in harmony and it was something truly amazing to see. Some of my friends and I started our own circle once the IDF soldiers had finished singing. We were joined a little later by some high schoolers from Mexico. Not knowing these new people we had just met, we all put each other's hands on everyone's shoulders and started singing. It was truly amazing to see that people from the U.S. and people from Mexico, people who speak two different languages, can all join together and sing the same songs not as Americans and not as Mexicans, but as Jews. Walking around after singing with everyone, I took a moment to step back and soak everything in. To see all of the Jewish people at the Kotel for the same purpose (maybe some to pray and some to sing and dance with friends, but overall for the same purpose) was truly amazing. People from all over the world come to pray at the Kotel. To experience it first hand was very powerful. It was nothing like any other Shabbat I have ever experienced.

Shabbat at the Kotel (Western Wall)

Blog post by Eliot McKelvy

Israel...what can I say?  From the moment I arrive (and was so happy that my knees shook) to hiking in the Negev, along with Gadna and experiencing the culture, it has been a blast!  And just when it seems like it was all over, you surprise me again.  Kabbalat Shabbat at the Kotel was such a great experience.  It was the highlight of my trip and I wasn't even expecting it.  One more day left to live life here to the fullest.  My life has been changed.

Sofie having her Bat Mitzvah ceremony 

Blog post by Ellie Neiman

Day after day, we woke up early in the morning, and I mean as early as 3:30 AM. And if anyone knows me, they know I am not a morning person, and I will hit you if you wake me up. (Sorry Elaun). After waking up early, we had long hot days filled with countless hours of touring, hiking, and a exaustion. We were active before sunrise, and after sunset everyday. Yet, in the grand scheme of things, I feel like there is so much we still could have done. Before coming to Israel, someone told me that you could tour Israel everyday for your entire life and there will always be more to see. I never realized how much this means. And for this reason, I am leaving Israel, with a need to learn more. A want to see everything. There is no doubt in my mind that I will find myself back here. Maybe for a year, maybe for a lifetime. I have found a home in this land, and no words can give justice to what I have seen, learned, and experienced.
Tonight is a bittersweet night. Tonight we celebrated our last Shabbat here in Israel. When I left America, it didn't feel real that I was coming to Israel. Now it doesn't feel real that I'm coming home. In a way, l'm excited. I get to see my friends. I get to see my family. But being here has been an experience that I will never have again, and I don't want it to end. Sure there were days when I wanted nothing more to come home. With my luck, I of course came down with a fever and sprained my ankle. But even the days I felt the worst, I laughed. There wasn't a day here that I didn't laugh. Sure I fell in love with the land, but more than that, I fell in love with the people. We came here as strangers. Now, we are 73 teenagers, 11 staff members, and one family, all dreading the final goodbye.

IST 2015 Staff
Top Row L-R - Smadar, D'ror, Elaun, Liran, Jeremy, JIllian, Noa & Michal
Bottom Row L-R - Jacki, Robyn & Josh 

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