Travel Around Israel Opened Teens' Eyes, They Say

A group of Chicagoland Jewish teens had a reunion Tuesday after traveling to Israel in July; they said it helped them learn Jewish values and culture.

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As Hannah Bowes and Sara Wineburgh, both 17-year-olds, finished up dinner at the Jewish Community Center in Skokie Tuesday night, they were eager to talk about their travels in Israel this past summer, and hosting Israeli teens here in the U.S.

Both of them had spent several summers of their childhood at Camp Chi, a summer camp near Wisconsin Dells, Wisc., that focuses on Jewish values and learning about Israel, as well as regular camp pursuits like swimming and hiking.

As a sort of culmination of their Camp Chi experience--and with the teens nearing the end of high school--the two girls traveled this past summer with about 28 other Camp Chi veterans to Israel. They spent two weeks touring the country as part of the JCC Maccabi Israel immersion travel experience.

"When we go to Israel, we live with (Israeli kids)," said Bowes, who lives in Skokie and is in her senior year at Niles North High School. "We get to see Judaism where it originated, and how they integrate it into everyday life."

Asked for an example, she said that Jewish Americans say a hamotzi (blessing) over the challah (bread) and wine on the Friday sabbath, but in Israel, the blessing is said before each meal. 

"That's everyday normal for them. You get to see the gist of how important Judaism is for them," observed Bowes, who lives in Chicago and is a senior at Lincoln Park High School.

Israeli kids roomed with American Jewish kids on the July 10 to Aug. 10 trip to Israel, in which they did things like stroll the Jewish quarter, touch the stones of the Western Wall, float in the Dead Sea, hike the desert and climb Masada to watch the sun rise. 

"We learned a lot of Hebrew, and they learned a lot of English," said Wineburgh with a laugh. 

Both girls had also spent time during the summer with Israeli kids visiting Camp Chi. and said they teach them about American ways.

Traveling to Israel, though, "makes you realize what little things are important to us," said Bowes. "It gives everyday life more value. You really learn the Jewish values, and you can pass it on."

Tuesday's dinner was a reunion of sorts for the mostly Chicago-area teen campers who had traveled to Israel together this past summer. They also got to thank Larry Goodman of the Lillian and Larry Goodman Foundations, a benefactor of Camp Chi and the trip to Israel. Goodman was honored in a ceremony that took place after dinner and before a dessert reception.