As I write, I am sitting in Ben Gurion Airport awaiting my flight back to the United States; I have spent the past few days with the 35 teens on the No'ar Hadash Israel Experience. First, let me say that they are all happy, smiling, and well cared for. In this last regard, IsraelExperts (our tour operator) has been spectacular at looking after every detail, and Roni and Derek (our American staff) continue to be among the most caring, thoughtful, and energetic leaders you can imagine. The group is truly lucky to have such a team planning and implementing this program.
During my all-too-short visit, I have had the opportunity to visit museums, watch movies, walk through beautiful towns, and just hang out with the teens. Group favorites from the past few days have included a home-cooked lunch in the Druze village of Osefya; meeting Murray Greenfield, an American who came to Israel before the creation of the State in order to help smuggle displaced Jews into the country (as he told us, he was "this close" to being a crew member on the Exodus); and a "scavenger hunt" through the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv. Perhaps the most exciting experience from the past few days was the morning we spent at Gadna. learning first-hand what it means to be a new recruit in the Israeli Defense Forces. The teens dressed in uniform, took part in field exercises, ate army "rations," and explored their personal responses to the army and its role in Israeli life. This powerful experience, along with so many others, is what this trip is all about; we are here to give our teens opportunities to challenge themselves to think in ever expanding ways about the place of Israel in their lives, in the life of the Jewish community, and ultimately in the world within which we live. As they enter their third week in Israel, they are doing this in ways that continue to amaze and please us more than we could ever have expected.
When I first met up with the group on Sunday night, we sat outside of our hotel in Haifa and discussed some of the highlights of the trip. I heard of visits to the Kotel (Western Wall), walking through the ancient water tunnel built by Hezekiah, learning about the pioneers of Israel from a phenomenal speaker, swimming in the Kineret, and the fun of a night in a Bedouin Tent before climbing Massada to the sounds of a live David Broza concert. The higlight that stood out most, however, came from one participant in particular. She explained that as she began walking towards the Kotel, a woman asked her where she is from. She told the woman that she is from the United States and that she is here with a group from No'ar Hadash, the Reconstructionist youth movement. The woman's response was simple: "Welcome home." This clearly touched the teen and her peers - everyone shook their heads in understanding as she told the story.
For our teens, the past two weeks have been a homecoming. (Worry not - they will still come home to your communities at the end of next week!) Know that, without a doubt, they will come home changed people. The experiences they are having here in Israel are truly life-changing and the way in which they are responding is truly holy. It is a deep pleasure to have had the opportunity to spend time with them over the past few days and I look forward to finding the ways in which they bring their new home with them when they return to the United States next week.
Through our time with these teens, we are all able to come home a bit to our country - and to ourselves. For both of these, we are most grateful.