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Israel Experience 2012 By: Jamie Cohen
I have spent approximately 46 days of my life, totaling more or less around 1,125 hours, bored out of my mind in a Hebrew school or Sunday school class. Whether I was learning how to read Hebrew or learning about Israel, I never enjoyed it. Maybe it was my teacher, maybe it was because it was more school for me to go to, who knows. But either way I never liked being there. Despite not enjoying Hebrew school, I felt the need and desire to go on Camp Chi’s Israel trip. This desire came about after a few years of learning about the beauty of Israel during camp’s Modern Israel History Program and after hearing what my fellow Camp Chi peers who went on the trip before me had to say. Everything I knew about Israel came from camp or Hebrew school. Since I spent most of my Jewish education thinking about when I would get to leave class, I can honestly say that the 25 days I spent in Israel taught me more about the country, its culture, its people and about life in general than my time in school could ever teach me. Israel works its magic on people and I am proud to say I fell under the amazing spell of Israeli culture and life.
I have never felt more proud of myself than when I completed any one of our hikes in Israel. The view at the top makes all the sweat and sore legs worth it. Being in Israel definitely taught me to persevere. I am not the athletic type, so the hikes were a bit difficult at first. But just because I had some trouble, did not mean I was not going to participate. Hard work pays off, and those magnificent views from mountaintops are unforgettable images in my head. Everything in Israel is so amazing, that you would not want to miss a single thing because it was too hard or you did not want to. I learned to enjoy every moment because who knows when I will have another chance to see the Jordan Mountains and Egypt from a single mountain in Eilat? Who knows when I will have another chance to sleep on the desert floor, where my ancestors once walked? And who knows when I will have another chance to stay with an Israeli family and learn all about how they celebrate Shabbat and their customs? Seeing the views on top of mountains made my mouth drop. I have never seen anything like that before. And that is what makes Israel unique. Not to mention its rich history. Who knew a single place can have thousands and thousands of years behind it. And each one of those years has impacted Israel and helped shape it into the historical and beautiful country it is today. I really got to understand the Jewish culture in Israel. It is much different than the Jewish culture I am used to seeing in America. The fact that everything shuts down on Saturdays and they really have a true day of rest amazes me. It is awesome to see how everyone can just drop their work, cell phones and computers and just spend time with their families for a simple 24 hours. Although some of the Shabbat customs that they keep in Israel might not be realistic here, the idea is so simplistic that I want to eventually bring it into my home life. The idea of being together with your family on Shabbat is something I see implemented in Camp Chi’s Shabbat and I think we could do more of it. Each cabin is like a family in itself and family time is something so important to Jewish families in Israel and it is very important for camp because it allows the campers to bond with each other and their counselors. In Israel I discovered that to me, family time is the most important aspect of Shabbat and I think that is something important to teach to all of the campers at Chi. Israel brings about once in a lifetime chances that makes you never want to miss a beat. Everything you do is important to your memory about the country and I want to bring that idea back to camp along with the family bonding idea and make every moment memorable for campers so they have lasting memories at Chi like I do and create lasting friendships.
Going into this trip, I expected to just tour Israel and learn all about its history and so on. Well, I was wrong. I found myself engaged in the country’s culture and actually feeling like I was a part of Israel. I learned so much about the Arab-Israeli conflict and what how dangerous it could be towards Israel. Seeing how passionate Israelis were about defending their homeland made me want to discover where their passion came from, and I figured it out very quickly.
Since I had never been to Israel before, I did not know what was so amazing and special about the country and therefore had never really thought about advocating for Israel. I knew Israel was an important place to the Jewish people but I never thought about defending its existence to those who do not believe that it is a Jewish state nor did I ever contemplate how Israel related to me. After spending nearly a month there, I get it. I get why people feel so strongly about defending Israel. I get why all of the citizens are proud to serve their country. I felt the love for the country like I was an Israeli as soon as I walked off of that El Al flight. One of my favorite parts about Israel is that you have something in common with almost everyone around you. We are all Jewish. And we even have something in common with the non-Jews living there, we all see Jerusalem as a holy city. Maybe not for the same reasons, but it still brings us all together. I see all of the Israelis there as a part of my family and Israel as another one of my homes. Coming back to Chicago after an amazing three and a half weeks made me realize that camp is just like Israel. Once I connected the two, I understood the passion that all Israelis have. I think we at Camp Chi can use these values of home and family to help learn about the culture of Israel. Every camper at Chi sees camps as their home away from home. At camp is where they feel most comfortable, like they are a part of a family. In fact, everyone at Camp Chi, whether it is the counselors, campers, or the hard working maintenance staff, is a part of the Chi family. Israel is like one big family and a home for Jews all around the world. I did not realize it until I was in Israel, but I am now proud to say that I have three homes close to my heart. Whether I am in Northbrook, Illinois, Lake Delton, Wisconsin or Tel Aviv, Israel, I feel as if I am with my family. I have my camp family that I will always feel connected to and I have my Jewish family in Israel. I will always have that special connection to Israel that I just recently discovered. The reason I have loved camp so much for the past nine summers is because it makes me feel comfortable and at home. I got that same feeling while I was in Israel. That feeling empowered me to want to take a stand with Israel and defend Israel in any way I can. I want to be that one to inform people on why Israel needs to be a Jewish state because I understand the passion that Israelis feel for their country because of the similar feeling I get with camp. Since I get the feeling, I have realized it is very important to help Israelis keep their home and make sure that it stays a Jewish state not just because it is home to all the Jews living there, but because Israel is home to Jews everywhere.
Spending the past weeks in Israel opened up my eyes to the beauty of the country. It really is a home that we need to show to the rest of Camp Chi. The feelings of camp and Israel are so similar that it is very easy portray to campers why Israel is important for the Jewish people. I think it is not only important for adults to learn about Israel but also all for the Camp Chi campers. Being in Israel showed me the culture that we can bring to camp and that would enhance the knowledge of campers and make Chi feel even more connected to Israel. I am so grateful for the opportunity I was given to really experience all that Israel has to offer. I think it is a place that every Jewish person needs to visit in his or her lifetime. It not only helps you realize so much history but the culture is just so amazing that you really do feel right at home.