Ilana Alford

Israel tour was the best experience of my life

The trip has truly enhanced my Jewish identity

August 10, 2022 12:26

Israel. The exquisite, fascinating homeland of the Jewish people. For the last three weeks, I have had the amazing opportunity to explore it with the Tribe (United Synagogue youth) tour, travelling across the country and learning about the diverse history of both modern and ancient Israel.

From exploring Jerusalem to learning about the Yom Kippur War in the Golan Heights, every moment of the tour was enriching and unforgettable. As someone who had never been to Israel before, the programme was life-changing. It was the best experience of my life.

The trip has truly enhanced my Jewish identity as I was able to explore the homeland of my people and learn about the many struggles Jews have faced and overcome throughout our history.

In particular, visiting the Kotel was an extremely spiritual experience that really resonated with my group. As a place filled with such fascinating history, it encapsulated the struggles and resilience of the Jewish people.

Additionally, I found celebrating Shabbat in Israel each week to be really special. Each Friday night/ Saturday was such a beautiful occasion, providing a break from the normal busy (albeit exhilarating) schedule of the week and giving us the opportunity to truly relax. I am so grateful to Tribe for allowing me to immerse myself in the Jewish culture that defines our religion, tradition and community.

Learning more about the diverse cultures within Israel, such as the Druze, Bedouin and the Ethiopian Jews, was also absolutely fascinating.

One aspect I found particularly powerful was the Yom Kippur Experience. We did this at Tel Saki, close to the border Israel has with Syria and a site of the 1973 war. Being there allowed us to fully immerse ourselves in the history of that event.

After navigating tunnels in complete darkness, we were then led to a small bunker, where we were exposed to the very human side of the conflict. We were told about group 188 (the Tankers) and how during the war, 28 men hid in the bunker in silence and darkness for 36 hours in constant fear of being detected by the enemy. We learnt that after several close calls, 27 of these men managed to survive this horrendous ordeal.

Listening to this moving account gave us a truer understanding about the reality of war and the bravery of the soldiers involved.

It was also just one of the many reminders on our trip of the constant challenges facing Israel throughout history, from the ancient struggles exemplified by the Kotel and Masada to today’s ongoing conflicts. 

With personable and thoughtful leaders, my tour group was offered an incredible range of activities — from hiking to water sports to camel riding. Each of the many contrasting elements in our packed schedule was absolutely fantastic. We enjoyed more activities in three weeks than one could hope to enjoy in a lifetime. 

I’m grateful too to the lovely tour guides who brought Israel’s history to life in a way that was riveting. For example, other powerful experiences were our visits to Yad Vashem and Mount Herzl — representing incredibly emotional periods of Jewish history. Both were presented in a really beautiful and poignant way. My connection to and pride in my Jewish roots was utterly reaffirmed. 

But above all, it was the people I travelled with who really made these past three weeks so phenomenal.

It was amazing to be surrounded by so many Jewish people of my age as I come from an area with comparatively few young Jewish families.

Despite coming from many different communities, with varied upbringings and experiences, we swiftly became a really close group.  It’s true to say that we have made unbreakable bonds. We’ve been back one day and already are planning our first reunion!

My Tribe tour was fantastic and I would recommend it to anyone.

Tribe tour member Ilana Alford, 16, is a member of Kingston, Surbiton and District United Synagogue

August 10, 2022 12:26

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