If a picture is worth a thousand words, than a single experience can encapsulate an entire summer of adventures.
This summer, I spent six weeks in Israel with Camp Yavnah, on a program called Na’aleh. Throughout our powerful voyage, we explored the ancient ruins of the land, conquered the desert challenges, delved into modern politics surrounding the country and immersed ourselves in Israeli culture. Because of our lengthy stay, our group did much more than simply skim the mainstream touristy sights. We met with many different types of people, including Jewish Israelis, members of the Druze religion, Palestinians, Israeli Arabs and Lebanese Christians. Within the Jewish Israeli community, we met with a wide range of citizens — from Americans who recently moved to Israel to sixth generation Israelis, and everything in between. We conversed with people from the most religious sects of Judaism to Jews who are completely unaffiliated. But wherever we ventured or whatever speaker we listened to, I always made sure to keep an open and curious mind. Sometimes, this was not an easy task. Many speakers I heard truly shocked me; their religious, academic or political views were often vastly different from anything I heard living in the suburbs of Philadelphia. The levels of complexity within the state of Israel, regarding religion, politics and race kept intensifying as the summer progressed.
There were so many different viewpoints that, at times, I almost lost confidence that Israel would ever be able to tackle all the incredible issues. But our final night in Israel gave me hope. My group piled onto the tour bus, headed to a park directly outside of the old city of Jerusalem, and we were told that at 10 p.m., a festive show filled with vibrant lights and dancing fountains would begin. With a few minutes to spare, I walked away from the rest of the group for some reflective alone time. I stared up at the stars scattered across the night sky, and while it was nothing compared to the beautiful planetarium-esque sky that my group had experienced in the Negev desert just a few short days prior, it was beautiful nonetheless. I looked out at the sturdy walls of the Old City and reflected upon the many religious and political issues revolving around this city each day. It simply amazed me that such a small area of land in the city of Jerusalem could be so contested among groups of people. I would have enjoyed taking in my surroundings for longer, but I heard shouts from my group that the fountain show had just begun.
I ran back to the group and danced into the refreshing water. My friends and I leaped around the water and followed the movements of the dancing fountains. We karate-chopped different parts of the fountain that shot up water and pretended certain areas were hot lava that we avoided at all costs. It was exhilarating to act like young carefree children once again. A few minutes later, two or three Israeli teenagers approached me and my friends and asked where we were visiting from. I was shocked that they had never heard of Philadelphia, and even more thrown off that they had never heard of Pennsylvania. I quickly learned that they had never been outside of Israel. Just as I had realized during other parts of the trip, the world is much bigger than I ever appreciated. Many issues that these Israeli teens faced each day were ones that I solely thought about during discussions regarding Israeli politics. The teenagers mentioned their fear and excitement about entering the army and longing to protect their families. This conversation made me feel incredibly far from my Jewish homeland, and my suburban American bubble seemed to be shrinking right before my eyes. This upcoming year, I will be preparing for college, and it was hard to put myself in the shoes of these Israeli teenagers who would soon embark on their preparation for the army.
But then I took another good look at my surroundings. To my right stood two of my friends playing with some young kids who were evidently Muslim. Their parents watched from the outskirts of the fountain as their children ran freely. To my left were Orthodox Jews in black hats and suits. The Orthodox children still wore quite modest clothing, but ran through the fountains nonetheless. Young religious Jews, secular Israeli teens and Muslim children skipped happily throughout the fountain enjoying all that the festive park had to offer. I decided to run through the fountains and join this group of diverse Israelis. Together, we played tag, sang happy birthday to a friend on my trip and chased the dancing fountains. We laughed together, comforted a young boy after he scraped his knee and chanted “next year in Jerusalem.” It did not matter what background we came from or how we ended up in this park. Our religion, or level of religious observance made no difference when running through the fountains. What mattered was that we were all in Israel and wanted to escape the summer heat with beautiful entertaining waterworks. As we jumped through the fountains like naïve children, I found myself wishing that all issues could be viewed through the lens of an innocent child dancing through the water. While I left Israel knowing that there would not be an easy solution to the complex issues facing the country, it overjoyed me to see young people of all facets of life simply enjoying life.