Seniors reflect on culminating SDJA experience.

By Sammi Dorfan (’18)

The prevailing sentiment among SDJA seniors as the plane bounced through Mediterranean mist and hovered over a legendary land was more than the typical happiness that a traveler feels when the landing gear extends from the body of a plane. It was some combination of relief, devastation, pride, excitement. We were relieved that we never had to experience the atrocities that we had just seen in Poland; devastated that our ancestors did; proud of the resilience that drove our people to establish a homeland; and excited to explore it.

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HaShomer HaChadash group poses in front of the organization’s emblem. Photo: Sammi Dorfan (’18)

Maya Schuster (‘18) says, “After a long week of learning, accompanied by a rollercoaster of emotions, we had finally reached a time where we could celebrate.” We celebrated by dancing at the Kotel and snorkeling in the Red Sea. We celebrated by traipsing through the desert and swimming in the Kineret. We celebrated by exploring mysticism in Tzfat and Jewish immigration in Atlit. Perhaps the biggest celebration of all was for Yom Haatzmaut. Schuster (‘18) continues, “I had always been proud to have Israeli roots but something about seeing and singing with thousands of Jews from all over the world made my heart swell and my cheeks sore from smiling.”

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Sophia Muroff practices shooting a gun while at Gadna. Photo: Sophia Muroff (’18)

Being in a country so rampant with controversy, it wasn’t always appropriate to celebrate. The tensions that arose both as a result of Nakba Day (“catastrophe”) and the moving of the American embassy were very much palpable both within our group and throughout the country. Sebastian Mayer (‘18) noticed that the situation put his peers on edge and that “any slight difference in opinion regarding Israel was attacked.” These discussions, however, provided the grade with opportunity for growth and for contemplation about the lives of ‘regular’ Israeli civilians.

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Jews from all around the world gather for a Yom Haatzmaut celebration. Photo: Shanna Ben-Moshe (’18)

The grade did not allow the divisive nature of Israeli politics to penetrate the bonds that were forming over the four days spent either at an army base in Sde Boker or on farms throughout Northern Israel. Half of the grade participated in Gadna, an IDF simulation bootcamp. Sebastian Mayer (‘18) says, “those who participated were given a small taste of being in the IDF and an incredible understanding of what being a teenager in Israel is like.” Although physically and mentally challenging, many who participated contend that it was “the most meaningful part of the trip.” Those who preferred to immerse themselves in the rich agricultural atmosphere of the country participated in HaShomer Hachadash (“The New Guard”), an organization dedicated to “safeguarding Israel’s lands through education and social action.” Gabriel Mayer (‘18) explains that participants got to “help farmers who were struggling due to underemployment and robbery” and claims that “it was the most real part of the trip.”

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Camels line up in preparation for a ride through the Negev. Photo: Sophia Muroff (’18)

One thing on which all seniors can agree is that the younger grades have a lot to look forward to; the trip is not a vacation; the trip is not a time to forget everything from school because as Rebecca Chitlik (‘18) says, “It’s more meaningful when you understand the historical background.” The trip is, however, an important culmination of Jewish learning and an opportunity to secure a connection to a country built by us, for us.

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