Gross Schechter Day School not only has taught us about our Judaism, but it has strengthened our commitment to our tradition and culture. At the beginning of eighth grade, we got pen pals from Beit Shean, Israel, and spent the whole year communicating with them.
They talked about their families, daily lives and growing up in Israel, and we described what it was like being Jewish in America. During our years at Schechter, we learned about Yom Ha’atzmaut and other Jewish holidays that allowed us to experience the history of Israel at home, and with each year we got closer to the trip, we became more excited to experience the holidays firsthand.
When the day finally arrived, we were all excited and ready to start what we were waiting for our entire lives. In Israel, we became closer as a grade as we were tested both emotionally and physically. We climbed challenging mountains where we navigated metal ladders and walked up many stairs. We cheered each other on and helped one another.
Our Jewish identity strengthened as well, as we prayed at the Kotel, the wall we have been praying to our entire lives. When we were first saw the wall, we felt so proud to be Jews. The spiritual connection we felt there when we were reading Torah and praying to G-d was overwhelming. We also visited the sites where David fought Goliath and learned more about the people who made us who we are. Our ancestors shaped the lives of every single Jew living today by giving us a home where we know we belong.
On Yom Hazikaron, or Israel’s Memorial Day, we went to Independence Hall in Tel Aviv and watched videos about the day David Ben-Gurion declared Israel a Jewish state. It was meaningful to experience the siren as we walked on a busy street sidewalk and witnessed how much Israel cares about its fallen soldiers. Every car stopped and nobody moved until the end of the siren.
Before the trip, we never considered that it is hard to be Jewish outside of our homeland. One thing in Israel that made our minds shift was when we were constantly surrounded by Jews, we felt safer and were able to pray in the middle of a crowd without them looking at us weirdly. It was so incredible to stop in the middle of a public place and pull out our tefillah stuff and start praying – we didn’t feel the need to hide we were Jews because we were finally in our own land.
The trip really changed the way we see ourselves as Jews. We feel closer and more connected to Israel. We got to experience what it was like to be a Jew in Israel versus America and we took beautiful photos we will cherish forever. We no longer had to hear about Israel and its wonders – we got to see it.
Lindy Bobrow, Michelle Aylyarov and Elizabeth Rush are eighth-graders at Gross Schechter Day School in Pepper Pike.