And God told Avram “go-forth”. And this week, so did I. We learn in Parshat Lech-Lecha of Avram’s bravery in leaving everything he knew in order to carry out the orders of God. Along the way, Avram gained immense insight into who he really was and what he was capable of. His journey of fulfilling God’s commands was a journey of self discovery in disguise.
However, the attitude of the girls in Midreshet Moriah on the eve of our “lech-lecha” camping trip wasn’t quite as faithful and agreeable as Avram’s. We questioned whether we were prepared enough to sleep in the desert, strong enough for the strenuous hikes, and familiar enough with one another for the random rooming and new conversations along the way. Girls scrambled through the halls seeking to borrow a dryfit shirt, an extra pair of sneakers, as many granola bars as they could collect. We packed and repacked to ensure maximum preparation and comfort for our journey to come.
The trip began with a wake up call at 5:30, and we were out the door by 6:00 am. We drove an hour into the desert and began with the typical team-building activities and games you would expect to find in a fourth grade gym class. Interestingly enough, we were all surprised at how difficult it was for us to work together to complete certain tasks or reach an objective. Those first moments were very telling of our abilities as a team despite our inflated confidence. At that point, none of us would have expected that by the last night of the trip we would stay up all night engrossed in conversation with girls we hadn’t known three days prior.
The following morning as I FaceTimed into the Cavs game live from my brother’s seat at the Q, I️ clung tight to my phone screen under the blanket as LeBron stole the ball and dunked right as the quarter ended. My roommates’ alarm clocks went off at just the right time to add excitement to the quarter buzzer that blasted in my headphones. The Cavs were in the lead, and I was ready for the sunrise hike up Mount Tzefachot. In the pitch black and dead silence of the desert at 4:30 am, I imagined myself five years prior as I had hiked up the same trail of the same mountain with my eighth grade Schechter class. As we reached the peak, the sun gently rested atop a mountain in the distance, emulating our tired and tranquil mood. Praying the morning Shacharit service to myself at the top of the mountain with the sunrise right before my eyes conjured up the magical, naive feelings of awe that fueled my prayers as a child. the serenity of what I wish for in my daily prayers was undeniably right in front of me. Another element that enhanced the beauty of the view was where the mountain itself stood. The sunrise sparkling over the ocean was of course breathtaking, but another major factor of the scene was the four countries that we overlooked (Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia), three of which are opposed to Israel’s existence. I thought about the complexity and severity of Israel’s relationships with these surrounding countries, yet there I stood openly indulging in prayer. The silhouette of 80 seminary girls praying on a mountaintop with a sunrise backdrop was truly a sight to be seen.
The morning’s tranquil vibe carried through the day as we embarked on our second hike which brought us to an extremely impactful activity. As the sun cooled off in preparation to set, we neared a huge open area in the desert where we were instructed to do nothing else but sit. So the group scattered and everyone found their own area and sat alone with their thoughts. No cell phone reception, no iPod for music, no friends to talk to. In Hebrew, the desert is called the “midbar,” from which the word “daber” - speak, is derived. Although the desert is a quiet and empty place, sometimes muting the world around you can amplify your inner voice. I️ thought about how lucky I was to be in Israel studying for the year, and how easily I️ could have ended up in a different place if I️ hadn’t fought for what I️ knew was best for myself. In those few moments alone I learned that silence speaks volumes.
After a couple days of being one with nature (a euphemism for too much dirt and not enough soap), we were relieved to spend Shabbat at a youth hostel with unlimited showers, real beds, and existing toilets. We rested, ate, schmoozed and ebbed our way out of a grueling week. We emerged with a new appreciation for our small dorm room beds and showers, we warmed our building with new friendships, and like Avram, we returned with a newfound realization of our own strengths and capabilities.
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Sydni Burg is a 2017 graduate of Solon High School. She is spending this year studying in Jerusalem in a seminary called Midreshet Moriah. There, she takes religious classes on all topics, books, concepts and laws of Judaism.