On July 4th, 104 Jewish teens from around the world departed their homes for Israel. Teens came from all across the United States, Costa Rica, Canada, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Macedonia, and many more to attend ILSI 2018. We gathered at our hotel in Jerusalem for our first dinner together. The next day began with our first Kitah (class) meeting. We spent almost every day touring and exploring new cities or sites with our separate Kitot. We then departed the hotel and left for our trek through the water of Hezekiah’s Tunnel. While this first journey was long and quite tiring, we were able to bond over our struggles. Soon after we completed our underground hike and returned to the surface, we met with a family celebrating their son’s Bar Mitzvah. They were eager to have us join them in their celebration, so we sang and danced in circles around the bar mitzvah boy and his family. This was the first of many authentic experiences that made ILSI such a unique and exciting trip.
The rest of the week consisted of nonstop adventure throughout Israel. We hiked more mountains to see amazing views, dressed up as ancient Jews, ate our first (of many) delicious Mediterranean meals, and played with goats! This all led up to our first Shabbat in Tzfat, which is located in the north of Israel. Led by my favorite Ukrainian friend, Yakov, we sang songs and prayed for the first time together in Israel. Saturday was relaxing and a great time for everyone to get to know each other. With a whole day dedicated to Shabbat programming, free time, and just being in Israel, everyone was able to connect with one another and build new friendships.
Our next few weeks remained exciting and hectic. Some highlights being: a boat party on Sea of Galilee, visiting the Lebanese and Syrian borders, rafting along the Jordan river, a Mediterranean themed Iron Chef competition, camping on the beach and in Bedouin tents, watching the World Cup finals, riding camels in the Negev, waking up at 3 AM to hike Masada for sunrise, and much more.
Our next Shabbat in Tzfat was celebrated at an Orthodox service. The boys and girls were separated by a curtain (known as a mechitza) while we prayed. This was one of the most unique and enlightening experiences of the trip because many of us had never experienced an Orthodox service before.
Our final days consisted of Shabbat and Tisha B’av at the Western Wall. Both were extremely moving experiences as we were able to sing and dance with Jews from around the world on Shabbat and honor our past on one of the most tragic days in our history.
In conclusion, ILSI was without a doubt one of the most amazing experiences of my entire life. I made lifelong friends from all over the world, who I cannot wait to visit in the future. Every day was a new adventure—I woke up so excited to get going each morning. All of the staff and teens made such a positive impact on my trip and I would not want to travel with anyone else. From our first dinner to our final hours in the Israeli Museum, this trip was filled with laughter, amazing food, educational opportunities, thought-provoking conversations, and authentic experiences. I can’t wait to see everyone at IC!
Sarah Gruber is a BBG from Liberty Region and plays squash.More Stories
Get The Shofar blasted to your inboxSubscribe