My time in Israel helped me discover my Jewish identity. Before I went to Israel, being Jewish had little significance to me. I didn’t fully understand what it means to be a Jewish person and the full scope of the community.
Sure, I travel to Connecticut every Passover for a Seder with my mother’s family and we light the menorah during Hanukkah. However, not belonging to a temple and never having had a bar mitzvah or studied Hebrew, I never truly felt Jewish. I didn’t understand how important it was to represent myself as a Jewish teen living in the United States. My trip to Israel really gave me a different perspective on what it means to be Jewish.
I was amazed at the diversity in Israel. I remember walking around the Western Wall and seeing so many Jews from different backgrounds. They were of various ethnicities, nationalities, and levels of worship. But they all shared one thing in common: a Jewish identity. This was really powerful for me as it helped me to understand the wide scope of the Jewish community and how it ties people together.
This trip also taught me and the rest of the group a lot about the history of the Jewish people, and how important it is to protect the land that is so sacred to millions. Before this trip, I really didn’t think of Israel in this light. I thought of Israel as more of just a country of primarily Jews, not as a spiritual and symbolic homeland for the Jewish people.
Another perspective that I gained while on this trip was that of the Israeli teens, and what they will be going through in a couple of years. I honestly had no idea that they have to go into the army in a couple of years, and I can’t even imagine what that would be like if we had to do that in the U.S.
The Israeli teens we met have concerns about their own safety and security that teens in the U.S. don’t have to worry about. However, there were also many similarities between the cultures of the Israeli teens and the American teens. We share the same insecurities and challenges. We discovered that we share a lot of pressure from home about succeeding in school and that we engage in a lot of similar extracurricular activities.
The Y2I trip was a fantastic experience that I will never forget and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to participate in it. I would like to return to Israel again when I am a bit older to see if it has the same effect on me as it did this summer. I have developed a deep understanding of what it means to be Jewish and will carry it with me throughout my life.
Aidan Merriam writes from Marblehead.