Roni Altman (Tour 5) and Guy Rapacioli (Tour 2) on their summers in Israel with FZY...
Roni: Eretz Zion, Yerushalayim. Those three words have been said and sung by Jews; young and old all over the world. Despite monotonously reciting them at practically every Jewish event ever, I never fully understood their importance before tour.
Israel is only one sixth of one percent of the total landmass of the Middle East. Israel has the most geniuses per capita. Around 70 unique communities are present in Israel. Statistics such as these are so easily overlooked, especially living abroad. it’s not until you tour Israel and see the high-tech city of Tel Aviv, see the multiculturalism in cities such as Haifa, see the mingling of old and new, all in a land so small, that these facts come alive.
Facts alone cannot capture the smell of spices sold at Machane Yehuda, the feeling of a warm, welcoming FZY Shabbat, or the passion felt by people of unparalleled diversity. As much as facts learned outside of Israel may help to begin to appreciate Israel until you arrive here, the connection so many people have to this land is almost incomprehensible.
When Israelis refer to Israel, they call it ‘ha’aretz,’ the land. Through exploring and working on the physical land, with Hashomer Hachadash, I understood the importance of caring for the land in Israel, as well as being connected spiritually to this country. Their message of ‘shomer achi,’ my brother’s keeper, inspired me to take action towards the issues I care about.
Connection is something I have learned a lot about so far on tour. Whereas visiting the Kotel helped reaffirm my own connection, exploring the Baha’i gardens and Druze hospitality helped me better understand other connections to Israel, as well as my own.
In truth, I am in the privileged position of having visited Israel many times, yet every time I come, I learn and experience Israel in different way. Often, many people already have a view or opinion about Israel, largely due to influence of family or friends. Yet, through the different talks and experiences unique to FZY and Young Judaea, I have not only been informed, but more importantly given space to allow me to form my own opinion about issues that concern Zionists everywhere, not just in Israel. When I return back to rainy old Manchester, other than leaving with a carry on full of duty free Toblerones, I will leave with a new sense of connection and comprehension of Israel. Many times, when I come to Israel I come on holiday, yet this time when I came with FZY, I came home.
Guy: A few days ago, our Madrichim asked us “what’s the most important thing about Judaism? What does being Jewish mean to you?” Despite some more outlandish suggestions such as “Chamantashen, Rabbi Slaznic and being able to prove everyone wrong”, it was overwhelmingly suggested that the most important things for us as Jews is the family and community, the food, the culture. Being on tour with FZY has allowed us to discover this culture in the very land where it cultivates. We’ve visited historic sites like the Kotel and the Old City in Jerusalem, and forced ourselves up Masada at 5am to experience the best sunrise you can ever hope to witness. And what’s more, we’ve done it all with smiles on our faces from start to finish, and a constant ruach that makes the FZY Tour experience so unique.
So, what gave us the motivation to do all of the amazing activities and once in a lifetime opportunities we’ve been offered, to crawl out of bed as early as 3:30 am to discover Israel? What strength did we gather to hike Masada? We’ve all been swept up by an amazing spirit and atmosphere that has lead us from one amazing experience to another. Of course, it wears off at times, like when our madrichim takes us on a sea-to-sea hike just to find the bus, or when you’re desperate to go to sleep but there’s a drum and base rave happening outside your door.
FZY Tour is a once in a lifetime experience for all of us that we’ve taken so much enjoyment from, and will cherish forever. What is Tour all about? We’ve all had fun times relaxing at free time and enjoying time with our Tour, but these are not the memories that will stick with us forever. So, what will we remember FZY Tour for? It will be remembered as one of the best summers we’ve had, for the chance to connect with the Jewish faith and Israeli culture, to experience some of the country’s most incredible sights and activities, and for the bond we’ve forged with our fellow chanichim.
I can’t not mention that we’ve visited one of the worst places in Israel, and I’m not talking about the boys’ apartment after a 5-night stay in Beit Ar-El hostel. I’m of course referring to the Gaza Strip, where we got a glimpse at a strip of land where everyday people live in horrible conditions, and terror rules. What has FZY taught me about this place, and the ongoing battle Israel fights every single day? One of FZY’s mottos is the idea of pluralism, the idea that everyone can coexist. There may never be peace in our time, but if each of us can be sure that we are spreading the message of pluralism as far as we each can, we’ll make the world that much brighter.
One of the highlights of all of our experiences in Israel so far has to be the night out we spent in Ben Yehuda Street Jerusalem. For hours we ate great food, haggled with Israel shopkeepers and danced in the streets. Most importantly, at no point in the evening did we feel in any way unsafe. This encapsulates the spirit of Israel that we’ve all experienced. Yes, there are challenges every day, but life goes on. Life thrives.
FZY tour has been one of the best experiences we’ve all had, for countless reasons. For this we must thank our madrichim for planning all of our activities, looking out for us every step of the way, and pretending not to see when they spot us out of our bedrooms a few minutes after curfew. I’d like to finish with a motto they taught us, perhaps the one takeaway from this experience that will endure when all of the memories have faded. If you want it, it’s not a dream. Thank you for listening.