Written by: 2019 ILS Participants
Picture this: you’re going on a four week trip to Israel with forty-one of your closest friends. Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? Well, that’s exactly how we spent our last month. The Camp Wise Israel Leadership Summer (ILS) experience taught us leadership in a way we would never have been able to learn anywhere else, and we can’t wait to show off our new skills in upcoming years as future staff members of Camp Wise. We had the time of our lives in Israel, and we’re so excited to tell you all about it!
We started our summer at the Home of Happiness in Chardon, Ohio before flying across the ocean and landing in Israel. There, we partnered up with two other JCC camps: Pinemere Camp of Philadelphia and Camp Livingston of Cincinnati. While we’ll admit the relationship was slightly awkward at first, we quickly became friends and transformed from strangers into family. The differences in our new traveling camp community only strengthened our bonds as we were able to learn both new traditions from other camps and share ours. Although saying goodbye at the end of the trip was hard, we know that through this experience, we’ve made lifelong Jewish friends across the country.
Being in the holiest place in the world for the Jewish people brought many questions, answers, and emotions during our four-week experience. For example, we had the opportunity to spend time with the Ethiopian Jewish community and it opened our eyes to the fact that Jewish people come from all corners of the earth. We were also amazed with our experience at the Western Wall on two separate occasions, one of them being Shabbat. Being at the Western Wall gave many of us clarity on what it means to be Jewish. Many of us felt very unattached to Judaism prior to coming on this trip, but now after visiting these places and meeting the global Jewish community, we feel more connected to our own Jewish identities.
Although we hit the highlights of Israel, such as the Western Wall, Masada, and the Dead Sea, the longevity of our one month journey across Israel gave us the opportunity to explore the country more in depth than your average trip to Israel. Through action-packed days starting at sunrise and ending after sunset, we traveled from the desert valleys of Eilat to the very tip of the Golan Heights. We rose before the sun to hike up not one, but two mountains, and ventured to Ein Gedi to discover the hidden wonders of their beautiful freshwater pools. We also visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, which was one of the most emotional experiences of the trip. In shopping at the shuks (open air markets), we got to experience the buzz of daily life for Israelis, and many of us learned not to take ‘no’ for an answer when bargaining! The brief summary we’re giving you here is only a glimpse into the countless adventures, experiences, and memories we are now carrying with us after the trip.
One of the most meaningful parts of our entire trip was our home hospitality experience in Beit Shean, Cleveland’s sister city. We spent four nights in Beit Shean, with our CW group split into two smaller groups to stay at two different kibbutzim. Some of us went to Kfar Rupin while the rest of us went to Reshafim! This was a nice and relaxing break from the fast pace of the rest of the trip. The cultural experiences we were a part of during these few days made a great impact on us, individually and as a group. From living with Israeli families, sharing Shabbat with them, eating meals together, and experiencing Kibbutz life, this experience was unparalleled to the rest of the trip. We met Israeli teens our own age as well as families with older and younger children giving us great insight into how our lives are similar and also very different from one another. Despite the differences, we realized that we are more alike than we first thought! During our stay, our host parents really looked out for us and took care of us in ways that felt like we were true family. Their incredible hospitality showed us what Israeli home life is really like, and by the end of the weekend, we didn’t want to leave!
This life changing trip was unlike anything we had ever done in our lives. We learned, grew, laughed, and matured so much through the ILS program and we couldn’t have asked for a better time in our lives to go. This opportunity brought us closer together as friends and helped us get more in tune with our Jewish identities and roles as future leaders at Camp Wise and beyond. We are so grateful we were able to participate in so many incredible activities in one of the most magnificent places on earth. We encourage anyone who has the chance to find a way to participate in the Camp Wise ILS program. To the younger campers at CW, trust us! It will change your life. We wish we could have stayed longer.
-2019 Camp Wise ILS Group