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Little Moments, Big Memories-Hannah Toppel

    Posted by Hannah Toppel on 11.29.21

This trip is a perfect mix of camp, tourism, and school. It prepares you for college, balancing the rigor of classes on top of a social life, all, on your own. The tiyuls create an immersive learning experience that teaches me so much about Jewish culture in Israel throughout history providing me with a deeper connection with my ancestors. Finally, the connections that form with your peers are very similar to the connections you form at camp. I feel so at home here even though I am in a place I have never been before. If you told me a year ago that I would go on a study abroad program for a semester in a different country, I never would have believed you. But, something happened when the idea was brought up to me in February that made me want to look deeper into it. I am eternally grateful for my inner voice telling me to look deeper. I can distinctly remember that day, that moment on January 30th of this year, when the idea of studying abroad in Israel was reintroduced - Even though I'm only halfway into the program, my life has already changed -for the better- so much. Little things are what have made the biggest impact on me, times where I'm doing something so simple that reminds me, I am here in Israel, that I took a detour on a typical American high school path to come here, and that I'm living my best freaking life.  

At camp, we often use the phrase, little moments, big memories, to point out parts of your summer, short intimate moments that you shared, maybe with a small group or with your whole age, that you remember and cherish the most. Here, so far one that stands out to me was when we were all in the hammocks about a week after quarantine, we were all just starting to get to know each other, not even really even knowing everyone's names yet. One of my friends that I met at the airport and I both put our hammocks in one of the cabin things right outside of our dorms.   Soon after two other people also put their hammocks up there. One night there were like 30 people all on the hammocks or sitting on the benches around the cabin and we were all just listening to music, talking, and getting to know each other. That night, I met so many more people and for the first time understood what this program was all about. Even though all we were doing was just sitting in a hammock and getting to know each other, it made me understand the meaningfulness of this trip, not just the trips and classes, but the memories and friendships and connections that are also important. Arguably, more important. We all kept those hammocks up and they are still used every day for people to sit in, talk, sleep, hang out, or do homework. In fact, we all call that area, the hammocks, now instead of the log cabin outside of the Muss dorm. Another moment that sticks out was stargazing on the first night of Yam L’Yam. We were all on one big tarp all laying down, freezing in our sleeping bags with the rain tarp over us just staring at the stars. Someone put on music and we were all just lying there cuddling, sleeping, watching. It was so peaceful after a long day of hiking and beautiful too. I live in a big city, Chicago, so it isn't an area where you can see stars when you look up. The only times I see stars are when I go on vacation or at camp but even then I don’t really remember seeing stars quite this pretty before. The combination of the stars and the people around me that I love even though just knowing them for a short time, reminded me that this is PRETTY AWESOME. That night I distinctly remember thinking about how much I value the friendships, memories, and experiences that I have had here thus far and made me never want to leave. 

I am so beyond thankful for this trip so far, the friendships, memories, and experiences that I have that have made me smile every day and have the time of my life. I truly love and cherish everything that we have done so far, big and small, and am so beyond grateful that on January 30th of 2021, I had a change of heart and looked into this trip. Leaving everything behind for this has been the best decision of my life.

Hannah Toppel