A foreign country establishes a beautiful place in our hearts.

By Gabriel Kucinski (’18)

“This reminds me of home,” said Nicole Sayd (‘18) who traveled to Israel with the KEN this summer. The Holy Land wasn’t what any of the teenagers had expected. It’s wasn’t old or boring but rather new and alive.

The KEN class of 2018 proudly poses in front of the Israeli flag.

Eleven juniors from SDJA visited over fifteen cities in Israel this past summer on the KEN trip. Although they shared the same experiences, they took away different memories and perspectives on a country that seems so different from their homes. Four of our own juniors who embarked on the journey to Israel agreed that their landing in the Tel Aviv airport shocked them and changed their expectations of what they thought would be the “ancient city.”

Rosie Franco (‘18) loved the free time our counselors often gave us to explore the streets on our own. She shares that one of her favorite nights on the trip was, “when our madrijim [counselors] gave us each twenty Shekelim [Israeli money] to go eat in any restaurant on the busy business street with a small group in Tel Aviv.” The girls split up after dinner and the whole group swarmed the foreign streets, within the two-block limit. Franco described the night as “an incredible experience I’ll never forget.”

Jonathan Bielaz’s (‘18) favorite hotel was “the one in Akko,” because it was the most architecturally interesting hotel, which featured “hallways with stone arches and rooms with unique patterns on the walls and roofs.” Each of the rooms “had a beautiful view of the ancient city. My room was on the highest floor and looked out to a camel-brown colored plaza.”

On our first night at the hotel in Akko, we discovered the hotel’s top deck, which had panoramic views of the city and hundreds of bright lights in the distance. Franco describes the night as “windy but warm.”

Nicole Sayd’s (‘18) favorite restaurant in Israel was the renowned chain of Aroma Espresso Bar. Sayd says “every time I saw the restaurant, I begged the madrijim to let us run in for a quick, refreshing drink.” At the cafe, all the drinks and meals come with a milk chocolate square. None of us had ever been to an accommodating restaurant in America that not only serves such delicious drinks for such a low price but also gives out a treat for free.

Sayd also enjoyed touring the kibbutz [collective community] that produced Shoko [packaged chocolate milk company], straight from the cows. “We got to feed some cows and saw where they were milked, which showed all of us how fresh the famous Israeli milk is,” she shares.

Although familiar in some aspects, Israel also served as a stark contrast to America in other ways. “American food is terrible compared to Israeli food,” according to Bielaz. “What food compares to a fresh shawarma [Israeli rotisserie chicken] wrap? Nothing you can find in America.”

Ilan Levy (‘18) loved our visit to the  דיאלוג בחשיכה [Dialogue in the Dark] Museum, which “allowed us to really appreciate a major foundation of life that we usually take for granted: our eyesight.” The KEN group split into boys and girls, and each of our groups was led by blind tour guides through regular daily scenes but “in complete darkness.” Levy comments that “after a while we couldn’t even tell if our eyes were open or closed, which inspired us to use our other senses.” He reflected on the experience and said he “truly experienced how difficult someone’s life can be without the gift of eyesight.”
Absorbing Israeli society and culture as nomads awoke an everlasting impression of our home away from home. The summer of 2016 changed my life, and left a special place for Israel in my heart. I can’t wait to go back and explore the 8,019 square foot country even more.

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