“You’re at the top! You’re at the top!” were the first words I shared in my final speech during ILSI, looking back on my experience climbing Masada after waking up and saying “it would be kind of nice to sleep in.”
Now, I could go on preaching about how you’ll get to swim in the dead sea, or visit the shuk in Jerusalem and get ripped off for a cool souvenir (heads up, the shops that say they “Love BBYO” are the ones to avoid), but that isn’t what made ILSI worth it. What stuck with me were the unplanned moments, the people I met, and the way I grew as a person throughout my 21 days in the holy land.
Let’s start with a rundown. International Leadership Training Seminar (ILSI) isn’t the run-of-the-mill Israel discovery. As a participant, you spend 21 days meeting leaders from all over Israel, participating in community service, traveling through the busy shuk markets and on midnight hikes in the Negev desert, and meeting people from all over the world who will become your family by the end of the trip.
I’ve never really believed that a program could really have something for everyone, but my mind quickly changed as I started one of my first days in Israel visiting the Valley of Tears, then white water rafting on the Jordan River. We stopped for lunch in a small restaurant/home where we learned about Druze culture (a small religious
group in Israel) and ate delicious food, and then spent the afternoon on the Kibbutz where after dinner a group of us crashed a wedding and danced with Israeli’s who lived on the Kibbutz! Needless to say, the day was well spent meeting people, laughing, and pushing everyone out of their comfort zone in one way or another. Every day of ILSI was no different, bringing people together through their differences and giving people the opportunity to experience everything they wanted and more.
My biggest takeaway from ILSI was to try something twice before deciding you don’t like it. For example, I was terrified of hiking Masada. I had done a mountain hike at an old sleepaway camp and had to turn around before the top because of anxiety. ILSI was a completely different experience. Staff cheered me on as I made my way to the top, and friends and other teens who I had never spoken to stayed by my side to push me to keep going when I started to get anxious, and my buses tour guide carried my backpack for at least half of the hike, telling me not to worry and just focus on reaching the top. There is no other experience where I would have received half of the support that teens on ILSI showed, worried about nothing other than empowering me to keep going and celebrate with them when we finally got to watch the sunrise from the peak. I would do it again in a heartbeat if I had the chance.
I came into ILSI scared to try new things and left with unwavering confidence and an entirely new sense of adventure. I became friends with other teens from more than ten countries, including Israelis that joined us for the trip. I’ll be honest, I didn’t understand at first why they would want to spend the summer exploring their own country and going to places all of them had been to before until Niv Derzi, one of the Israelis, completely changed my perspective and I want to share a message from the end of the trip.
“This is my first bbyo trip, the first time I got to experience and understand, what’s being a teen in bbyo, and the first time I saw Judaism and Israel in a way I’ve never seen before. As I said earlier, I usually don’t cry when I climb up Masada, when I go to Yad Vashem or when I touch the Kotel, but this time, it was much more meaningful and emotional, I learned things about my own country through you, and I had the best time of my life traveling my own country, and it was all because of you guys… Thank you for making me feel a part of this
group, for laughing w me, walking with me, singing with me, dancing w me, crying w me … Thanks for being my friends, thanks for showing me that good friends and good relationships can be built even in 3 weeks, Thank you for supporting me and for shutting down my insecurities, ...for asking me questions about my life in Israel and my life in general, for wanting to know more about me, for making a safe place me to be me, for letting me know more about you, for being my new family, my friends for life, Thank you for being you.”
The moral of the story is simple. ILSI is the Israel trip to spend your summer on. The Shabbats at the Kotel, late-night bus rides after events, conversations with the most unique of people, and opportunities to challenge yourself to grow and learn are endless. You won’t regret the sleepless nights on the Kibbutz where you laughed endlessly with your roommates, you’ll look to go back to the hot days when your bus sang and danced despite the dripping sweat, and you’ll endlessly talk about the people you got to meet and how much of a family and home Israel gave you. The feeling I got from ILSI is a feeling that I will spend the rest of my life looking for again, don’t miss your chance to feel it too.
Samantha Przybisiki is a BBG from Connecticut Valley and she is a major advocate for equity within her community.
All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.
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