[Ed. note] The Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford, CT, offers an Israel experience scholarship to local Jewish high school students, supported by donors who established endowed funds at the foundation. Each grant from the foundation’s scholarship provides up to $6,000 per student for participation in an immersive Israel experience lasting anywhere from 4 weeks to one semester. Here is one example of a scholar’s experience in Israel. Tziyona Goldfischer, a student at the New England Jewish Academy in West Hartford, traveled to Israel over the summer.]

Thanks to the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford’s Israel experience scholarship, my summer of 2021 was an experience of tremendous impact, and a summer I will truly never forget. 

Before I went on this trip, I felt as if my life had a missing piece, specifically religiously. I knew I wanted to have a deeper, more meaningful relationship with Judaism, but I honestly didn’t know how or where to start. When I was in Israel, the missing piece I had been craving to find finally appeared. The relationships with my advisors created an environment that helped me in so many profound ways. My advisors not only gave me advice on my religious journey that I was secretly craving, they also taught me life lessons that I will truly never forget. 

The program Israel ID (Israel In-Depth) taught us how to create a much stronger connection with the physical land and history of Israel.  To do this, every morning we separated into chavurot (learning groups) to learn about the places we would visit that day. This gave me a chance to gain a personal connection with the physical land and history of Israel.

For example, when we visited Mt. Herzl, where the fallen Israeli soldiers are buried, we spent hours going over specific stories of some of the fallen soldiers and the sacrifices made for the land of Israel. During the last twenty minutes of our visit there, we each chose to light a candle for a specific soldier’s grave. This created an environment where all of the teens, including myself, could truly connect to the land and people of Israel in a deeper sense. We all felt overwhelming amounts of sadness, respect and thankfulness. This experience, in addition to many others we witnessed on the program, are a few moments I will never forget. 

For the first couple of weeks of my journey in Israel, the only thing I wanted was a new siddur (Jewish prayer book). I spent all of my free time in the markets walking around with my friends in search of the perfect Hebrew-to-English siddur that would help me find deep connections with my religion. After two weeks of searching, I still couldn’t find the perfect one. 

On a Friday afternoon, I was getting ready for Shabbat. Through the roaring of talking and laughing among my friends, I heard my rabbi/director call my name from outside my room. When he called me, I was ready to deny any accusation that he might make, thinking that I was in trouble for something. But when I walked through the door, I saw him holding up the perfect prayer book. This siddur, that my Rabbi and all my other advisors gave me, helps me every single day. 

The last night of my trip, my rabbi/director asked me for my siddur. After he gave it back to me, I found a newly written paragraph that contained a sentence, ‘Let’s change the world.’ His inscription was perfect for me. He truly believed I can help achieve change in the world, and I plan to improve the world in any way humanly possible. This is why:

In the third week of the program, we went to Hebron to visit Maarat HaMachpela, the cave of the Patriarchs.  As we entered the building, my tour guide explained that, due to the conflict between Jews and Arabs, Jews are only allowed to go into their respective half and Arabs are only allowed to go in theirs. However, there is a big exception to this rule. Whenever one religion has a special holiday, the other religion is willing to put away its differences and share their portion of the building. While someone could look at this situation negatively, I see it in a positive light. This shows me that even though peace seems so unattainable, it’s truly possible. After talking more about this with my tour guide and advisors, I still continue to see the hope for more peace, than hate.

Due to this profound experience, I will do everything I can to make the world a better place. We owe it to ourselves, our ancestors, and our future generations. We owe it to people who are different from us, and to people who are the same as us.

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