My Israel Connection

February 6, 2023
Shira Merenstein

Denver, Colorado, United States

Class of 2025

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Recently, I returned from Israel, where I had been with my grade for a whole month. I had been hearing about the Hebrew Immersion Program, HIP, since before I was even in kindergarten. The 10th graders would go to Israel for a whole month, traveling around the state, growing their Jewish connection, and gaining a better understanding of the Jewish language. When I was in 2nd grade, my brother went on this trip, and my sister went when I was in 4th grade. Going through elementary school and middle school, I always had this to look forward to, but it always felt so far away. I would watch all of the 10th graders leave in December and look up to them in awe of how old they were and how cool they were. When I got to 9th grade, it still felt far away. I knew it would be next year, but it still felt like I had all the time in the world.

Then, 10th grade came along. The year started, but I wasn’t leaving until the end of November. It was only August, and I still had 3 months before I left. The medical and logistics forms started being sent out, the meetings started happening, the itinerary and packing list were created, and before I knew it, it was time to start shopping and packing. 

Monday, November 29th. The day had arrived. I woke up full of excitement to be going back to Israel, my favorite place on earth. Part of me was very nervous, especially because I wasn’t that close with my class, but I knew what an incredible experience this would be. Luckily, when we got to the airport, there were no complications. We checked in fine and headed through security to our gate. When we landed in Chicago, we got some dinner and hung out for a little while. Then, it was time for the 12 hour plane ride. But before I knew it, we were clapping as the plane touched down on the grounds of Ben Gurion Airport. I was overjoyed. We got our bags, met our tour guide and our madrichim, and headed to the hotel for dinner and some rest.

The first days in Jerusalem were packed. We were gone the entire day, touring around the old city, Mahane Yehudah, Yad Vashem, and countless other places. I felt like I was living a true dream.  We spent the next two weeks in Hebrew class and the Ramat Negev High School, where we bonded with the Israeli teens, who will be coming to visit us later in the year. We stayed at their homes and got a chance to practice speaking in Hebrew with their families. One of my favorite memories from these weeks was hanging out at the boarding school in the Negev, where my host sister went to school. One night, we hung out with her and her friends from school and learned a new game called Cadur Zohar. Running around and throwing a ball back and forth was never my strong skill, and I never liked it. But this game and this experience made me so happy. 

At the end of those two weeks, it was my 16th birthday. I was a little sad to not be with my family and other friends from home, but it ended up being the most special experience ever. We hiked Masada and floated in the Dead Sea, and my teachers, friends, and the Israelis bought me cake and balloons and celebrated me the whole day. 

The next part of our trip was Gadna, IDF training. I had been so scared leading up to it, considering my health challenges, and I didn’t even know if I would be able to do it. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip. The commander only spoke in Hebrew, which gave me a huge grasp on the language, and my class made it such a fun time.

One week left in the trip. It had passed so quickly. We spent the last week staying on the Kinneret and travelling around to different cities up north. I started to miss my bed and miss the comfort of home, but I kept living this experience to the fullest, because I knew I would miss it when it was over. We spent our last few days making chocolate, going sandboarding, and making mosaics. 

Before I knew it, it was our last night and we were at our farewell dinner with the Israeli teens. As we gave our final hugs and goodbyes, I was heartbroken, knowing I wouldn’t see them again until April. After our final day in the Negev, we headed back up to Tel Aviv and to the airport. 

As I was waiting in the airport, I couldn’t stop thinking about how amazing this trip was. Sure, it had many low points and there were many times when I was feeling really down, but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. The four Shabbats that we spent there, each in different places. Hanukkah. Gadna. My birthday. The Israelis. Just everything. When we finally landed in Denver, I rushed into my parents arms and was so happy to have the feeling of home again. Although I was so happy to be home, I missed Israel more than anything. I missed the connections I made, the discoveries I had, and most of all, I missed all the new experiences I had that I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else. It may not have been what I expected, but it was incredible.

Shira Merenstein is a BBG from Denver, Colorado and loves to spend all her money on BBYO.

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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