My Israel Experience

My Israel Experience, by Zoe Philips

When I signed up almost six months ago for this so called “trip of a lifetime”, I had no idea what I was in for. I knew that it was important for every Jew to go to Israel at some point in their life, so going with all of my best friends from camp seemed like it would be the perfect summer. And I was right.Zoe

This past summer was the most adventurous, meaningful, engaging, and most importantly—memorable summer of my whole life. It’s so hard to even begin to describe the way I felt being at the Kotel, walking down the streets of the old city, or even just eating so much falafel until I felt sick. The month I spent in Israel this summer was anything but an ordinary trip. As most know, there is a war going on there. There were rockets being shot while we were there. But with the IDF’s strong “Iron Dome” protecting us, we knew we would be just fine.

Almost everyone that has talked to me about my trip asks if I felt safe. I tell them yes, I have never felt safer in my entire life. The citizens of Israel make it very easy to feel safe there. Every single place we went to there was at least a few people that came up to us, asking us where we were from, how long we were staying, how we’ve liked our trip so far, and so on. I felt like everywhere we went seemed like such a community.

Of course, the whole trip was amazing. But one of the most memorable parts was when our group was on a water hike. We were finishing up the hike with water at our waists, when we see a group of people that we later found out was a Jewish camp from South Africa. We start to talk to them, and then begin to have a country versus country cheer battle. We are doing our cheers for America, while they do their South African cheers. Things get loud and crazy with everyone splashing water, but then everyone gets silent. We all begin to form a circle in the water and sing the Hatikvah. It was absolutely amazing to see the transition of us competing with our individual countries to realizing that we all are here in Israel, as Jewish people coming together.

Honestly, I can’t point to one single part of this trip and say it was my favorite. But the best aspect of this trip by far… was the connection I made with Israel. All I thought of Israel before this summer was that it was a country I needed to visit with a bunch of Jewish people living there. But I now know it is a family, it is a homeland for the Jews, and every Jewish person should be able to feel the connection I felt with this amazing place.

BBYO Brings Ruach to Wexner Heritage Village: Our Own Mark Moscardino Shares His Thoughts on What Makes the Teens of BBYO So Special

In my line of work, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t often times witness small miracles, observe moments exploding with Jewish meaning, and watch the lives of children and adults change for better or for worse. Through BBYO, Camp Hoover, Kaleidoscope, and all the youth and teen programming at the JCC, I’ve had the privilege of watching individuals grow from child to teen, and then from teen to adult. Within BBYO itself, the chapter programming is so reliant on the teens’ choices and leadership abilities that it varies beyond compare, ranging from eating contests to Dodgeball to community service projects. Each week the chapter leaders work vigorously to plan their own hour of time, together as Jewish teens. Lessons are learned through the planning, leadership and execution of chapter programs. Sometimes lessons are even learned through the failure of a chapter program. This past weekend, I witnessed absolute success within BBYO teen-led programming.

Aliah BBG, the Columbus girls chapter of BBYO, held a chapter convention on August 22nd through August 23rd. The program began with athletics, a 1-mile color run behind the JCC using colored powder to create memorable pictures and moments. The boys of AZA were invited to join just for the run, and did so with enthusiasm and ruach. After the run, the girls prepared for Shabbat dinner, followed by an evening Shabbat service planned and led by their members. Services were followed by the making of over 85 bagged lunches to be donated to the homeless and those in need. Keeping with the Shabbat theme of the evening, the girls spent time talking about their lives and their connection to their chapter during a lengthy and meaningful good and welfare program. The next morning began with sunrise YOGA, followed by breakfast. The next part of the program, though, is what really struck me as absolute success:

The 16 girls headed next door to Wexner Heritage Village, and participated in the Saturday morning Shabbat service alongside their generational counterparts in BBG and the community. The girls learned from Rabbi Cary Kozberg about each of the residents attending the service, and how they may or may not all connect to Shabbat in the same manor. During the service, you could sense the happiness within each member, both Wexner residents and BBGs. The girls spent time after the service engaging with the residents, whether recounting memories of a grandmother or grandfather or of their time in BBG not so long ago. It was truly in the spirit of Shabbat to see a group of young girls engage the residents, wish them Shabbat Shalom, and walk away with a meaningful Shabbat experience. It was the most apparent and real example of L’Dor V’Dor, from Generation to Generation, that I’ve seen in my time here at the JCC.

BBG uses a six-fold system for their programming, attempting to make each and every program unique and meaningful for the Jewish teen who attends. The folds include Jewish Heritage, Community Service, Social Action, Recreation, Creativity and Sisterhood. The Aliah BBG Chapter Convention encompasses each and every fold of BBG and should be an example of programming for Jewish teens in the future. As the BBYO City Director, a proud BBYO alum, and simply a Jewish person in our community, I applaud Aliah BBG in such a successful program, and for reminding me, once again, why the Jewish teen community is so special to each and every person involved.