First, I would like to give a huge thank you to the Lappin Foundation. Thank you for helping me dig deeper into realizing my Jewish identity and thank you for creating everlasting memories I will never forget. My Y2I experience was truly amazing.
From the moment we walked into Ben Gurion and Amnon said to us, “Welcome home,” that really stuck with me. Yes, there are Jews living all around the world who have different qualities, interests, or skills, but the one thing we all have in common is you, Israel. Thank you for providing a safe and comforting place for all Jews and keeping us protected.
The trip did not start out the best for me in Tel Aviv. On the very first night, we watched the most gorgeous sunset any of us had ever seen. After the sun went down, we had a pool party on the rooftop of the hotel. I had been in the pool for two minutes when I realized my phone was still in my pocket. Sadly, I was without a phone for the rest of the trip, but I did not let that take away from my wonderful experience. As bad as that may sound for any teenager, it turned out to be a blessing. I was able to experience all the breathtaking sights through my own eyes of your very diverse land and to really get the feel of what it was like living in Israel.
When we came to your city of Jerusalem, I was overcome with emotion. That is when it hit me that I was actually in Israel; I was in the Holy Land. To think that I was walking where great prophets and kings walked left a mark on me. It’s amazing to think that you, Israel, are where the world started. You are truly a wonder with your enriched history and there is still so much that the world has yet to discover about you.
Getting to know you through our tour guide Ron was the best thing about the trip I could have asked for. Because of him, I was really able to take in the determination of your population and the pride in being Israeli citizens. Although everything is constantly in motion and never stops, every Israeli citizen knows that each second on this planet is a gift and never takes it for granted.
Your museums helped me learn that nothing has ever come easy to you. You got to where you are today from fighting for liberation and becoming free from oppression. From fighting against Roman control, to the Holocaust, all Jews know what it is like to earn freedom and to appreciate the land that we walk on, the food on our table, and the roof over our heads.
I have learned that all Jews are a family. Thanks to Israel, we all have a common denominator. No matter where we are from, we all understand the true value of family. Everybody has their family that they see all the time and live their everyday lives with, but only 14.6 million of us Jews are able to say we have a true second family.
A question frequently asked throughout our stay in Israel was, “What does Judaism mean to you?” What it means to me is to appreciate all that I have and be thankful. It means to stand up and advocate for Jews around the world who are not able to advocate for themselves and to fight for Israel.
So once again, Israel, thank you. Thank you for the life lessons you have taught me to never take anything for granted. Thank you for leaving me with memories I will never forget. From swimming in the Dead Sea, praying at the Western Wall, climbing Mount Masada, and many more unforgettable experiences, along with the many lifelong friendships I have made that we will forever share a special bond. I look forward to coming back to you soon with my family, and someday my own children. Just know that you have left a mark on my heart for all eternity and that I will advocate for you and spread Judaism for you.
Love and Shalom, Justin Saslaw
Justin Saslaw writes from Peabody. Y2I (Youth to Israel) is an annual two-week trip to Israel for Jewish teens who live north of Boston. All expenses are paid by the Lappin Foundation. For information, visit y2i.org.