by Liran Dor
Two months, 3 weeks, and 4 days ago, I left for Israel on scholarship called the Impact Fellowship to study Jewish history at a boarding school called Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI). The organization that funded my trip is the Jewish National Fund, or the JNF. Their goal with funding my trip (as well as 4 others) was to create the next generation of Jewish leaders and ambassadors for the school. They did this by interviewing many Jewish students and seeing which of them showed leadership traits. They then selected these kids to go on the program. While on the program, we went through multiple classes designed for leadership training, public speaking, etc. Some of the things that I did and continue to do now for the Impact Fellowship include writing 1 to 2 blog entries a week, speaking at local Jewish communities about the program, recruiting students to go. Generally, I have a responsibility to spread the word about the school.
Though JNF had a goal of me spreading the word about the school and recruiting, they sent me for another reason that was more of an unspoken reason. They wanted me (and the other students) to experience, and in the end to love, Israel. This is because the people who are running the JNF are all Zionists. A Zionist is a person who believes in the unquestionable connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel and the right of the Jewish people to return to and live in the State of Israel, including the development and protection of the Jewish people and state (Israel). Another example of a Zionist organization would be the people who run a program called Birthright. They send Jews from all around the world on a completely free trip to Israel just so that they can connect with Israel and its history, and Judaism. These free trips have been proven to work, and it absolutely worked on me.
While I was gone, and even though I had lived in Israel for a year before, I started to further appreciate Israel's culture much more than I have before, especially finding things that I like more about Israeli culture than American culture. I started realizing the large differences in the people that you would meet in your day-to-day life. The absolute biggest trait that stood out to me was the complete honesty that Israelis have and that Americans tend to lack. I started noticing that Israelis have less of a “social intelligence” and more of a “harsh” and sometimes even “brutal” way of conveying their message. Of course, when you first experience something like this, it seems like a big deal, but even though Israelis tend to come off as rude I started to really enjoy how I always knew what they thought of me or my opinions. You know where you stand. An American tends to be a lot more sensitive and less honest which creates an (in my mind) unnecessary struggle of trying to understand their opinion. Now, before your mind starts jumping places, remember that this does not apply for all people, but I found it to be absolutely true for the majority of people in each of these countries.
The second biggest thing that I noticed in culture difference was how accepting Israelis tend to be of any situation. When I was in Israel during the first week, I was at a Synagogue. While everyone was celebrating a holiday and dancing with the Torah, some person from outside the walls threw a rock into the very crowded area. When it became obvious that an act of hate had happened with the intention of hurting someone (most likely for celebrating Judaism, later published in the news) there was a slight panic in the crowd and I assumed that we would be going back to our campus to a more safe area. To my surprise, the crowd simply reported the crime to the police and continued dancing as if nothing had happened. I was really surprised about how a group of at least 100 people could so easily disregard a clear danger, but then I realized something. These people every day are under the fear of a rocket being shot at their home from the surrounding countries, Gaza and the West Bank (Arab-controlled areas). These people know how to not let a clearly uncomfortable situation affect how they are going to live their lives. It seems a little crazy to me, but I really admire how easily they got over such a thing vs. here in America. I have had experiences that have been much less dangerous and impactful that people even years later are still scared by or affected by. I really do believe that being able to get over something is important, having the ability to “move on” from a situation is vital. It's important to not let negative experiences affect you in the future so you can continue living.
These are just two of the many examples of reasons why I love Israel and its culture. My trip to Israel through AMHSI and the JNF was the most impactful and just outright amazing trip that I have ever been on during my entire life. Now, this means nothing to you if you don't know how many family and educational trips I have been on. But, between being a Watershed student and having a family that travels a lot, I have had a great deal of travel experiences. After this entire experience, I am just absolutely so happy to be an ambassador for the school and Israel and am really working hard to motivate kids to be part of it because of how amazing it was for me, regardless of my responsibility to do so. I learned to love Israel and its people while making amazing friends and traveling all over the country seeing and experiencing things that I could nowhere else. So please, if you read this and have someone in mind (absolutely does not have to be Jewish) who would be interested in going on this trip, refer them to me for more information or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to be of help to anyone looking to have the experiences that I had.