Unexpected Experiences-Elinor Hall
When I first applied for AMHSI, after hearing of a friend's experience on the program, I expected to learn about the land of Israel, to connect with a community of Jewish peers, and to better understand my relationship with Judaism. What I have received, having now spent 2 months and three days here, is this and so, so much more. When I arrived, I was immediately excited by the realization that suddenly, I was surrounded by Jewish teens, something I have never experienced before in a high school with maybe 10 other Jewish kids. I cannot explain how amazing it is to be able to sing and dance to ‘am yisrael chai’ in the hallways between classes, to welcome in Shabbat with 75 kids my age, and to be able to discuss Jewish teaching and halacha with my peers. A moment that I feel will stay with me forever was when we traveled to Jerusalem on Yom Kippur. We had fasted all day, prayed, and reflected. We were tired and hungry and found ourselves smack dab in the center of Jerusalem. As the sun began to set, We counted down the seconds until the shofar blast that marked our break-fast. We stood around a large, fenced in table, where little boys passed out cakes, juice, candy and mint to the crowd. We sang and danced down the streets of Jerusalem, hand in hand. We found our way to a circle of exchange students from the US sitting in the middle of the empty street, as it was Yom Kippur. They sat around singing songs that we, as American Jews also knew, and we joined in, asking where they were from and playing ‘Jewish Geography’.
While my friends at home sit in a classroom at Bellingham High, I crawl through ancient caves, traverse mountains, step in the footsteps of my ancestors and learn about their, my, history. I wake up everyday, although perhaps tired, excited to learn, whether it occurs in our classroom, on the sand dunes of Ashdod, at the peak of a mountain, or in a synagogue in Tzfat. I am beyond grateful for this opportunity. My eyes have been opened to the vast Jewish community here, one that I never would have dreamt I was a part of. I have learned of the resilience of the Jewish people throughout the ages, and that I am proud to be a part of that people. I have found a piece of myself in Israel and I cannot wait to go out into the rolling hills, winding ancient streets, and Jewish community to find more.