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Getting real about Israel

A group of Jewish students embark on a trip to Israel

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Getting real about Israel

Megan Joyce, Staff Writer

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For some people, Israel is just a place on a map. But for many people, its rich history makes it a place of spiritual significance. Over winter break, for nine Jewish students, it changed from a place in their minds to a memory.

The Jewish Federation of Omaha started planning for this trip in Nov. of 2016, and on Dec. 26, 2018, it finally became a reality. In a matter of only ten days, the students experienced many of the highlights of Israel like seeing Western Wall in Jerusalem, visiting the Dead  Sea, climbing up Masada, and meeting up with other Israeli teens. Director of Development Nate Shapiro was on the planning committee for the trip and helped tweak the itinerary.

“We really wanted to have a good balance of fun activities, mixed with seeing the natural beauty of the country, while also learning the history of the state of Israel and connecting with the people of Israel. We wanted to have a good balance,” Shapiro said.

The synagogue ensured that the students would have a variety of experiences. While there, students were able to learn not only more about themselves and their faith, but also about the history and politics of a place so important to them.

“[The most meaningful place we visited to me was] definitely the Western Wall. The Western Wall is a part of the temple before it was destroyed, and people pray there because it’s considered to be a place that’s a little more spiritual.  It was something that everyone who is Jewish that I know had always wanted to do and it was a unique experience,” junior Raelyn Cherry said.

One experience many of the students remembered as their favorite was getting to meet up with Israeli teens, stay with their families, and go to school with them for four days. The students found that they were fun to interact with and they created some of their favorite memories together.

“One of my favorite memories is when we were in a Druze village with some Israeli teens and we got these really really spicy peppers and we were daring each other to eat them and that was kind of fun,” junior Robert Osborne said.

For the students on the trip, Israel was a place they had heard about for years, and they were finally getting to experience a place they had long heard of.

“Israel is a place that’s important to every Jew, so being able to see that place and walk where a lot of people who share my faith have walked was really cool,” senior Isabella Wright said.

Ultimately, although the experience was spiritually charged for many of the students, there was a more worldly feeling that came from being able to leave the country and learn more about places beyond.

We did a lot of religious things like Habdallah as a group and the Western Wall and prayed together, but it was less about the spirituality of Judaism and all that, but more about being able to experience Israel as a group of teenagers,” Wright said.

Israel may be 6,536 miles away, but a piece of it lives in Omaha in the minds and hearts of these students.

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