It's a Jew Thing

What's it like growing up an observant Jew in a modern non-Jewish world? Read on...

Saturday, October 29, 2005


How many times have you heard a Jewish person say how important it is to go to Israel, and how it is our homeland and everyone must visit. I mean, wasn’t Birthright, this amazing free trip for Jewish college students, created for that reason? It is all true. But reading it, hearing about it, or thinking it is literally nothing compared to experiencing it. And I didn’t want to experience it as most Americans do, as a tourist. I wanted to experience it as part of it. That’s why for one quarter of my junior in high school I enrolled in the USY High (a program run nationally by my youth group) which meets at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel, an American run school in Israel. In the small town of Hod Hasharon, outside Tel Aviv, I was able to feel part of Israel while learning everything about it.

Basically, you take classes Sunday-Friday mornings and learn in a classroom everything that there is to know about Israeli and Jewish history, studying from Biblical times to the present day struggles of the modern state of Israel. Included in this would be 1 or 2 days a week having a tiyul (fieldtrip) where we’d visit sights of importance to what we were learning. So we visited all the sites that “tourists” visit but also so many more places that were so important to us because we visited them knowing all of the history behind them. There was even a guy on our trip who had previously gone on a tourist visit to Israel and told us at one point that sites we visited at more significance to him now because on his first trip they’d just get off the bus visiting places as they fell in geographic convenience and didn’t really know what the place meant. I remember on that day feeling really happy that I’d made the decision to visit Israel in this way.

Below is a picture from one of our fieldtrips, when we learning about Jews moving to Palestine around the time of World War 2. Basically the English were still in command of the land and didn't open it up to Jews to move there to escape the war, so they snuck in. So Jews in Palestine would run out into the water when a ship of Jews trying to enter Israel was approaching, switch clothing with them, and then carry them to land. This was their way of trying to confuse the English as to which people were legally allowed to be there or not (and it worked for a while). This is a picture of the group similating how Jews in Palestine carried those trying to enter to shore, and we had this lesson on the very beaches that they used 60 years ago.

You might be asking what I did about my regular school since I got to Israel in February. Basically, you have 1-on-1 tutoring in up to 3 classes from your regular high school and some high schools gave students credit for things like history and English to accord for the core class we were taking in Israel. Also, you live in a dorm, much like college. I was in Friedman dorm with all of the other USY High kids (the students in the other 2 dorms didn’t enroll through USY and were traditionally less observant). The dorm was two floors and had two common areas and a kitchenette area, as well as a madrich and a madricha (a male and a female RA). Each room had three or four people living in it, and it had a bedroom and a room with desks. We did have curfew and a time by which the door to the dorm was locked and alarmed, but we had a lot of freedom. In the afternoons we could go into Hod Hasharon and shop or have lunch, things like that. It was really cool to feel like you were part of a town, because you were living there, not just visiting for a few days.

My trip to Israel really changed me as a person and it made Israel a large part of my heart. It has been almost 5 years since I have been to Israel and I still think about memories of my trip, and I still wish I could go back to support the country that means so much to me. And I think that maybe for my next trip I’ll be a little more laid back, and go as an educated tourist.

Sidenote: what else would you like to hear about?? Please leave a comment to tell me what my next post should be about. THANKS!!


  • At 12:02 PM, Blogger carah said…

    That is such a wonder experience spending a semester studying in Israel. I am almost jealous that you had the chance to spend so much time studying in Israel. I also have had the opportunity to visit Israel. When I was a sophomore in high school my rabbi took my confirmation class to Israel for ten days in December. Months before our trip we spent every night of Hebrew school intensely study Israel and all of its history. It was amazing to actually see the destruction of the temple and the actual places we had been hearing about since we were little. We actually experienced the Israeli culture for a week! Israel is defiantly the most beautiful place I have ever seen. My favorite spot there was the Old City and western Wall. I was such an experience to actually be praying where our ancestors prayed years ago. As you said, this experience did change me as a person and I was only there for 10 days. I could only imagine what a semester there would be like!

  • At 6:15 PM, Blogger Tara Raphael said…

    I've always wanted to go to Israel. I think that you were able to go for that long of a period of time, really made you appreciate that expereince even more, becuase you weren't a "tourist." Even going as "one of those" I would definitely love to visit the country. I think it is a place that has so much significant historical and religious value. Not only to Jews, but to a variety of religions. That's really cool that you were able to stay in a dorm-like place with people your age. I was supposed to go a couple of years ago, but the families we were going with got nervous with the fighting and we wound up cancelling our trip. I hope to reschedule soon though!

  • At 8:28 PM, Blogger Kristen said…

    That really does sound like an awesome trip! And I can not believe you got to go there for so long! Were you nervous at all being away from your parents for so long when you were so young? Also kind of a side note as to what Tara said, were you scared of the fighting that goes on there, or were you in a really safe area? In your next post you could tell us a little more about your trip, like where exactly did you go? And what kind of things did you see, even give us a little history about why the places you visited were significant to you and your religon.

  • At 12:20 PM, Blogger Meredith said…

    That is unbelievable that you visited Israel. The amount of history which is there and the beauty of the country must have left a lasting impression in your mind. That’s something that I do always talk about do but to be honest I don’t think I could ever get up the guts to actually go there and visit. I think it was great that that gave you classes about the history of the places you were going to visit prior to visiting them. It must have made it so much more enjoyable to know and understand exactly what you were looking at and truly admire the beauty of it. Would you ever consider going back there maybe at an older age? I think that possible visiting the same places you have already when you’re older and have more life experience could bring about even more explanation of our Jewish heritage that you already have.

  • At 11:32 PM, Blogger reenaa said…

    Wow! You have been to Israel. I can imagine how much fun it would have been. Going back to the country of your roots, learning about the culture and history of your ancestors, seeing how people actually live there, the real feeling of day to day life in Israel. With so much going on with the current political tussle between Israel and Palestine, I just wonder what people living there must be going through. What are your thoughts on the events surrounding present day Israel? When do you think this is going to stop, that is if it is ever really going to stop?


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