“Shalom (hello in Hebrew), welcome home.” These were the first words I heard from the stuartist when I stepped off of the plane. I, along with fourteen other classmates, had just arrived in Israel, where we were a part of a three month foreign exchange program. These welcoming words touched me, as I was finally in the holy land, the land of the Jewish people; my people.
â–º Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
Throughout those three months, I lived in Tel Aviv with the family of an Israeli teen who came to my school in Los Angeles, California for three months. I immediately felt like a member of the family, as I was embraced by my new Ema and Aba (mom and dad in Hebrew), along with my new Ach (brother in Hebrew). Although slightly uncomfortable in my new setting, I embraced the amazing possibilities of this journey.
In our time of from school, our schedules were jam-packed with trips, tours, and activities. Among the many places we travelled to were the Judean Desert and Masada, the Dead Sea, Eilat (a resort city in the south of the country), the Golan Heights, Jerusalem, and many other areas. These trips educated us on Israeli history, while at the same time, giving us time to bond as a group.
Personally, more memorable than these trips were the many holidays and honorary days we observed during our time in Israel. We first celebrated Purim, a festive holiday in which the Jews of Persia were saved from being executed. This holiday slightly resembles Halloween, as everyone dresses up in costumes. The festivities include the reading of the Megillah (the story of Purim), festivals and parties at schools and in the streets, and the sharing of presents among friends. Following Purim, we celebrated Passover, a holiday commemorating the Israelites escape from Egypt. I took part in a traditional Israeli Seder (Jewish Passover dinner) with my Israeli family, as we at a hearty meal and retold the story of Passover.
The final two weeks of our program were a rollercoaster of emotions in terms of the holiday’s we observed. First of the three was Holocaust Remembrance Day. Since Israel is such an important part of Judaism, the feeling was different than any other I had ever experienced in observation of this day in the United States. A siren went off at 10 o’clock in the morning, and the whole country, no matter where they are, stands silently until the siren goes off. At the time, our group, along with all of the other cars on the highway, stopped and stood on the curb in silence.
We then observed Memorial Day, which, like Holocaust Remembrance Day, was very somber, as most of the population knows someone who has died in combat, as it is mandatory to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces following high school.
A day removed from such a somber day, Independence Day was celebrated. This holiday was incredible, as the streets were filled with people dancing and singing into the early morning hours (6 am the following day) as they celebrated their country’s birthday. I vividly remember looking around Florentine Street (Tel Aviv), and being mesmerized by all of the smiling faces and camaraderie among strangers.
The following day, it was time to pack our bags and head home. It was quite a strange concept, leaving my home, to go home. As we said goodbye to our new brothers and sisters amidst many tears, I could not help but smile and think to myself, “We may speak different languages and we may live far away, but we are all Jewish.
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