By Goldie Amsel, Shana Aleph Midreshet Moriah, Shana Bet Michlalah, Monsey, NY
To a Jew, Israel can mean many things. It can mean home. Unity. Diversity. Love. Holiness. For a Jew, there is one thing that connects us all: our history. Israel is a place of tremendous history that all types of Jewish men and women, children and mothers and fathers, come to relive, to learn, to see.
When I stepped off the plane two weeks prior to the start of my first year of seminary, I saw our homeland with fresh eyes. As one of my first real trips to Israel, I spent the time thinking what exactly Israel means to me. Why is it that some people love it and others hate it? Why is Israel such a hot topic throughout the world?
I kept the questions at the back of my head, walking through the shuk at Machaneh Yehuda and sniffing the powerful aroma in the air. I strolled the streets of Tel Aviv and listened to the loud laughter and music coming from all different directions. I climbed different mountains, saw beautiful sights, and heard tragic and inspiring stories. I placed my hand on the cold stones at the kotel, closing my eyes and trying to infuse myself with the kedusha of such a makom tefilah, a place of prayer.
Once my touring was over, I made my way to Yerushalayim; my seminary experience awaited me! Midreshet Moriah, an amazing school with a warm environment, paired with Kedma to help us find the right chesed organization to be a part of. My seminary wanted it to truly be a volunteer experience, and, therefore, not everyone had to do a chesed in the time slot they allotted. To this I am grateful, because I now know that every second I spent on the trip there and back, every second at my chesed, however challenging, came from within myself, from my own will and strength.
I volunteered at a place called Kfar Yeladim David. Kfar Yeladim has many working cogs, but the one I merited to be a part of was working with kids around bat mitzvah age- doing activities like baking, or playing tap tap tree-o (the Israeli version of course!). I worked one-on-one with a lovely eleven year old girl named Odel. She is sweet, a little shy, and has such character! There were days that were hard. Wednesday would come around, time to head to chesed, and I genuinely didn’t want to go. I would remember just the week before how Odel ignored me the whole time I was there. But then I reminded myself of why I was doing this. Why I chose Kfar Yeladim as where I wanted to spend my time.
These girls were there for a reason. They came straight after school to eat a proper meal in a normal environment, because for whatever personal reasons they had, their homes were not a proper place for them. Some girls maybe had alcoholic mothers or fathers. Or maybe they were abused, or neglected. I never asked and no one told me. But Kfar Yeladim takes children and gives them a safe haven from the time school ends until they have to go home- just in time for sleep. Who was I to deprive my friend Odel of some happiness? Who was I to tell her that I don’t care to give her stability?
And so I went. Even through the ignoring. And the mean comments. Because deep down I knew she was a sweet girl who was hurting. We spent enough time together for me to know her true middos- qualities and maturity far beyond her years.
Unfortunately, my seminary year was the year of Corona. I boarded a plane heading back to America just four days before Pesach, much to my chagrin. Odel invited me to her bat mitzvah in sivan, just a few weeks after my birthday. I thought maybe I could go, share in her simcha, but I guess that’s not what Hashem had in mind.
Looking back at the whirlwind of my cut-short year, I smile at the laughs I shared with my friends, at the memories I made at Kfar Yeladim. I cherish the trips we took, the family I visited. Looking back, I ask myself again: what does Israel mean to me? Is it a place of hustle and bustle? A place to tour? A place of unity? History? A place of danger? A place of emunah? Some would answer one thing. Others would argue another. Looking back, I would have to agree with them all. Israel is my home, and it is also everything else- a package deal. Having lived there, for however short a time, I am happy to have been a part of such beauty and richness. Looking back I feel so much, but it’s also about looking forward, and looking forward I see a future bright and inviting, and I am filled with excitement, because l’shana haba b’yerushalayim!