Sunscreen and schnitzel; advice for Israel Tour

Are you going on tour this summer? Our columnist has some important advice...

July 05, 2018 15:25

A group of hormonal young people from different walks of life, brought together for a set period over a hot summer, where emotions will run high and adult supervision will be limited. No, not Love Island, but Israel Tour the rite of passage so many of us have undertaken at the tender age of 16.

The best summer ever, or a month of putting on a brave face and grimacing every time the singing starts? For most it’s probably something in between. I should know, I’ve done it twice, first as a participant and then as a leader. If I could travel back in time, here’s what I’d tell my 16-year-old self:

You won’t love every minute. Whoever says otherwise is exaggerating. Find the parts that you enjoy a beautiful sunset over the Med, or visiting the Western Wall with your peers and don’t let the aspects that you hate ruin it.

Pay attention to the educational stuff. Yes, you’re on holiday, and you’ve just finished your GCSEs, and you don’t want to look like a swot, but some of this is pretty interesting. Years later, when you’re revisiting these places and trying to impress a new partner, you’ll be smug when you know the name of the first kibbutz, or which prime minister is buried at Sde Boker.

Do the hikes. All of them. Don’t cry off sick because your legs hurt, or you didn’t get enough sleep. Chances are you’ll spend the majority of your adult life at a desk. Relish being outside in gorgeous scenery.

Do wear suncream, and drink water. Don’t be the person who has to spend six hours in a hospital outside of Tiberias on a drip while the rest of your group swims in the Kinneret.

Don’t make jokes at El Al airport security. They won’t laugh, and you’ll just hold up your entire group.

There will be mean girls and guys. Maybe you’ll be one (don’t be), or maybe you’ll be the one they pick on. You’ll probably sob, hug and laugh because of them, but if you make just one good friend from this trip, it’ll be worth it. Fifteen years on, the person I met crying in the loos over the behaviour of the ‘rude boys’ is still in my life. Fall for someone, but don’t let heartbreak ruin your experience.

Take part in at least one guitar circle, even if you can’t sing or hate the music. A decade on, you’ll hear that tune and it will take you back to a moment when you had everything ahead of you (Tour Eight 2008 – I still can’t hear Apologise without thinking of you).

Eat the meals, even if its schnitzel and hummus for eternity. Or at least eat enough that your leaders aren’t afraid you have an eating disorder. But if there’s ever a time for ice cream for breakfast, it’s tour.

Stay up late, but also don’t be afraid to go to bed early sometimes. A month is time enough to make meaningful memories. They won’t all be from day one.

Put down your phone. In my day (yes, this century) we didn’t have smartphones or social media, and we survived. Yes, you want a selfie atop Masada; yes it’d be fun to post a video floating in the Dead Sea. But try to be there, really there, for the big moments.

Be kind to your leaders. If they’re badgering you, it’s probably because they don’t want you to miss out and want to keep you safe. Remember, they’re doing this for free.

If you can depending on the youth group try an unfamiliar service. Enjoy an orthodox Kabbalat Shabbat; spend Saturday morning meditating instead of at a minyan. It will help you know what kind of a Jew you are.

Listen to what your madrichim say about Israel and the peace process; about the founding of the state and the years since. Listen, and hear their passion, but don’t be afraid to question, challenge or disagree. Their Zionism does not have to be yours. Tour is about learning the facts, not knowing the answers.

Use this time to think about your identity, Jewish and otherwise. At 16, you’re on the way to becoming your future self. What kind of person will that be? What will they care about?

Have fun but don’t worry if you’re not having fun all the time. And if it falls short of the month you expected, it doesn’t matter. Tour is a pivotal moment for many young Jews but it’s far from the only one.

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July 05, 2018 15:25

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