How My Summer in Israel Changed My Life

Photo+via+Chloe+Baker%2FSouth+Lakes+Sentinel

Photo via Chloe Baker/South Lakes Sentinel

Chloe Baker, Student Life Editor

Many know that I am not always the type of person who likes to go out of their comfort zone. I like to have fun and try new things, but only if I know exactly what is going to happen. I spend a  lot of time thinking of things that could go wrong, and I often over think the smallest things. To put it frankly, I’m a bit uptight. However, this summer I embodied Hillel’s wise words “if not now, when” and I went for something I’ve always wanted to do without overthinking it and looking back. 

The trip began in New York City at John F Kennedy Airport. Getting to JFK was stressful enough on its own (that’s a story for another time), so by the time I got there I was a nervous wreck, and I was questioning my summer plans. I worried that I wasn’t going to have fun and that I would regret my decision to go. Shortly after checking in, we boarded the plane and were on our way to Tel Aviv. I remember getting onto the plane and finding my seat. Once I put my bag away and double checked seven times that I did not lose my passport, I sat down and had a moment in deep thought. I started to get a bit emotional. I could not believe that my lifelong dream of going to Israel – the country of my people, that I had heard so much about, was finally coming true. 

Throughout my time in Israel I had so many moments where I felt the feeling of pure happiness and connection, and for the first time in a long time, I let myself just be. It felt like everything had fallen into place, and I could just relax without having to worry about COVID in America, college applications, and anything else that was stressing me out back home. 

A particular moment that I will never forget was my first time visiting the Kotel (Hebrew term for Western Wall). It was our last stop before the hotel after a very long two days of going to the beach, spending a night at a Bedouin Tent, waking up at 3 AM to hike Masada, and visiting the Dead Sea. I felt so relieved and excited when we finally arrived at the Western Wall. I took a few minutes and prayed at the wall and felt overcome with emotion. It was unbelievable to me that I was standing in front of something I had heard so much about. I placed a handwritten note in the wall, walked away without turning my back, and I felt like I had just accomplished something that I was meant to do. 

Tour Group in Front of Western Wall

Another one of my best memories of the trip was our excursion to the Jordan River to go on a water hike, and then to go rafting. The entire activity itself was hilarious. Girls jumping in and out of the boats into the water, having to duck when we encountered trees, paddling badly and in the wrong direction, before eventually reaching the “rapids”. After the long bus ride back to the Kibbutz we were staying at, my friend realized that our room key was missing. As she was trying to retrace her steps she realized that the key must have fallen into the Jordan river. We started to panic because we were going to have to pay the fine for a new key and we had no way to get into our room. We broke the news to the front desk that we needed a new key. The lady working immediately pulled out our room key from under the desk and told us that someone else staying at our hotel found it in the Jordan River and brought it back for us. We ended up meeting the man who saved our key later that night and thanked him for bringing it back. This story serves as a good lesson and embodies Divine Providence: the thought that everything happens for a reason, and nothing is a coincidence. 

Jordan River Group Photo

Although I miss the physical place, what I miss the most is the group. It’s amazing to me how close we all became in the span of 3 weeks. None of us knew each other at first, yet we came out of the trip feeling like we had been friends forever. We lived together, learned together, and all grew as people together. We could turn any bad situation into a good one, and were always there to lift each other up, and make each other laugh. 

Over the past year and a half I have found myself questioning so many things. Thoughts like “Why me?”, among others have been living in my brain. And it was as if I had forgotten that G-d has a plan, and divine providence exists. This trip strengthened my Judaism, and opened up my heart and my eyes to what truly matters to me. The essence of life is who we are at our core – our Neshama, it is not in what we physically have to offer. I learnt the importance of human connection and true friendship, and I realized that materialistic things do not matter as much to me. I developed a new found love for morning prayers, meaningful conversations, celebrating Shabbat each Friday, and, believe it or not, intense hikes. If you can hike down Masada, you can hike down anything! 

This trip changed me in many ways and I know I will always remember the lessons I have learned from it. 

Next year in Jerusalem!