Cameras in hand, the 28 eighth-graders at the Joseph and Florence Mandel Jewish Day School in Beachwood enjoyed a jam-packed trip to Israel, from north to south, surrounded by lifelong friends and teachers. But while some used historically focused lenses, others chose to put religious or cultural aspects in their foregrounds.

Students who were interested in history were certainly content with a look into the past, included in each expedition on which the class embarked. Whether zooming our cameras in on the not-so-distant past symbolized in Independence Hall or the tremendous honor and courage that occurred on top of Masada, there was no shortage of historical material on our trip to Israel.

Most importantly, we witnessed firsthand how proud Israel is of its past. We noticed this Israeli pride at places like David Ben-Gurion’s grave, proudly marked with a billowing Israeli flag, and the Israel Museum, filled to the brim with history on Israel and the Jewish people. It is safe to say as we travelled the country, pride and patriotism came full circle while walking past soldiers, honored to fight and preserve the history of the land they protect. History was clearly a source of connection for many of us, and helped foster lifelong connections to Israel.

As some of us enjoyed Israel as a historical gold mine, others took pleasure in connecting with the deep spiritual meaning of the country. Visiting and placing notes in the Western Wall, and putting down our cameras as we walked through a surprisingly serene Jerusalem on Shabbat were moments that only strengthened our religious connection to Israel throughout the trip.

In addition, we marveled at the cultural and religious melting pot. We were touched by how many people of different backgrounds, ethnicities and religions from all over the world seemed to connect with the land for various spiritual reasons. Because of our newfound spiritual appreciation for what we saw in the land, our trip to Israel helped us grasp a deeper love and appreciation for Judaism.

But now, as we step back from our cameras and examine the pictures we took, it is becoming increasingly evident to each of us the aspects of Israel with which we chose to connect with. Whether the reason is a strong historical pull, a spiritual connection, an enjoyable piece of cultural exposure, or something entirely different, each of us is now able to say Israel holds a place in our hearts. One of the most beautiful parts of our itinerary was each of us was given the opportunity to admire Israel in a different way. So, despite the individualized lenses we chose to look through as we visited Israel, we all have one thing in common: whether it be a gap year, a youth group planned outing, or a family vacation, we can’t wait to start planning our return trips.

Allie Dettelbach just completed the eighth grade at the Joseph and Florence Mandel Jewish Day School in Beachwood.

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