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Traveling to Israel can transform lives

Y2I changed me as a Jew

By Korey Cohan

AUGUST 10, 2017 – After my first trip to Israel through the Lappin Foundation’s Youth to Israel came to an end last summer, I developed an enhanced pride for my Judaism and the culture of the Jewish people.

It was a turning point in my life as a Jewish teen. I realized that I no longer was going to be a passive Jew. I was no longer going to tolerate anti-Semitic jokes being thrown around in school. I was no longer going to remain silent as false accusations about Israel were spread through the media and on college campuses.

When someone makes an anti-Semitic remark in school, it is a personal attack not only on me and other Jewish classmates, but on the Israeli teens which I had the privilege to meet on my first visit.

Returning for the second time with Y2I 2017, I reunited with many of those same Israeli teens, who I now viewed as family. We embraced and talked about anything and everything that happened in the year since we last met.

While we had not known each other that long, being with them felt as if I was reuniting with my brothers and sisters. We are the same age, we like the same things, but most of all, we are all Jews. Just as family sticks together through the tough times, we Jews remain together through the tough times. We always find the light in the dark room.

What gave me even more joy was watching the American teens who were meeting the Israeli teens for the first time. I watched friendships form, laughs shared, and Instagram usernames exchanged. The bond between this year’s group of Y2I teens and the Israeli teens is unbreakable. And I speak for all 109 Y2I teens when I say that we have a very special place for all of them in our hearts.

As our last day in Israel came to an end, we all came together to have a tough and necessary conversation. I remember standing in front of the group with the other intern and my good friend, Rachel Ellis. We asked the group a few simple questions.

First to the American teens: “What do you plan on doing after high school?” They raised their hands, ready to answer. “I am going to go to college.” It was almost comical, for we all knew that would be the answer.

Now we asked the Israeli teens the same question, but their answers were different. “I am going to join the Israel Defense Forces.” One after another raised their hand and said the same thing.

The truth is, they all are, whether they want to or not. I remember watching a movie called “Under the Helmet,” which describes what it is like to be a teen joining the IDF and the incredible emotional and physical strength it requires to drop everything and serve their country.
I am amazed at the sacrifice every Israeli teen makes for the state of the Jewish people. They not only are defending the citizens of Israel, but they are also defending the land that I can return to at any time, and be accepted and loved simply because I am a Jew.

They are defending my home as well. And for that I am forever grateful. There is no way I could look each Israeli teen in the eye and say my goodbyes without promising them that I will bring the fight for Israel back home. I will stand up for Israel, I will fight the BDS movement on campus. I will not only defend Israel, but promote it as well. I hope all of you do the same.

Korey Cohan, 17, will begin his senior year at Marblehead High this fall.

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Connecting with my Jewish identity

By Sam Katz

AUGUST 10, 2017 – The Jewish way of life is threatened in America because of an identity issue. The problem is that in the United States, we often view being Jewish as simply being part of a religion. In reality, it is so much more.

Judaism is an identity. We are a proud and ancient people. It is this sentiment that needs to be embraced by Jewish Americans to reignite the true Jewish identity within ourselves.

Not too long ago, the religious connection was my take on my Jewish identity. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to travel to Israel for the first time this summer. My entire perspective was shifted by being in a country where I was surrounded by Jews. It was the first time in my life I was not a member of the minority.

I was fortunate to meet and become friends with many Israeli teens. What fascinated me the most was the way they identified themselves. They were Jews, whether or not they actively practiced or believed in the religion. Being Jewish was the integral factor in their identity.

With this new outlook, I was forced to rethink the way I considered my own identity as a Jew.

When I returned home from Israel, I found time to reflect on my trip. I realized a growing number of American Jews are identifying as secular or nonreligious, which is fine. But this is where the most important difference in the common American perception of Judaism versus the actual reality of Judaism lies. Many of these secular Jews lose their Jewish identity entirely. While we are Americans, it is a dishonor to both our Jewish ancestors as well as the Jewish people of today to think of ourselves only in those terms. We are Jews and should present ourselves as such, no matter how tempting it is to further assimilate.

We live in a primarily Christian society, which influences the way my Jewish generation perceives religion. In America, Christians are not an ethnic group; they are part of a religion. This is what leads young people to falsely believe that Judaism is strictly a religion. Too many of my Jewish friends, and even myself formerly, would rush to distance themselves from being Jewish.

“My parents are Jewish, but I’m not. … I’m not Jewish, I’m an atheist.”

I hear phrases like these all too often. It is through sayings like these that Jewish culture and our overall presence in America is being marginalized, as compared to Israel where our existence is mainstream.

Judaism can be one of the most influential parts of our identity, as long as we let it be. For this to be so, we need to reestablish and redefine what it means to be Jewish; how our connection and identification goes beyond our religion. It is who we are, and it plays a part in everything we do.

If we are able to proudly identify with our true ethnic origins, then the future of our people will be solidified.

Sam Katz, 16, lives in Marblehead and attended the Lappin Founda­tion’s Youth to Israel trip this summer.

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Jeff Katz August 11, 2017, 7:46 am

    Some very powerful thoughts from an articulate young man.

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