The return

Five: the children who became my sisters and brothers in a short amount of time

Four: the sirens that pierced my ears as I escaped to the safe room 

Three: the Shabbats I spent in company with laughter, love, and happiness

Two: the colorful Rainbow Loom bracelets crafted with love and care from my campers

One: my family in Israel.

… One: the week lost.

Driving to our family friend's house, my heart felt heavy. The green fields rolled and rolled in the distance, and the cloudless blue, hazy sky stretched into the yonder. Next to me, Lihi held Dvir's surprise birthday cake on her lap-bomba cake, of course-and Lavi was telling me stories in Hebrew. Ken … Biemmet? … Nachone … Ani mevina. The challah was baked and the sleepover blankets and pillows rested on top of my feet. Windows down, air blowing into our faces, and the latest "wiggle, wiggle, wiggle" song was playing from the iPod. 

I found peace.

And then there was still that what if voice inside me. This is what scared me most. Find a wall. Find a ditch. Run away from the car. Lay down. Hands over head. All in 30 seconds. 

Unexpectedly, less than 24 hours later, I stepped onto the plane that would take me from one home to another. Oh so desperately holding back the waterfall that was to pour over my tired face. 

Only hours before I was laughing in the grass and taking silly selfies with my host sisters. Only hours before I was staring at the almost-full moon as the sun began to set over the foothills. Only hours before I was sitting at the Shabbat dinner table, laughing with the teens and adults at the social media memes making fun of "the situation." The soon-to-be demolished cake sat on the counter behind me, and the women's faces were wet around the eyes, bodies shaking so hard from their laughter at the simplest of jokes. For this laughter was the relief to the stress of the week before: sleeping in the family room with the children, dealing with fussy children after too much time inside their home for too many days, running into the safe room after singing "Happy Birthday." 

Then I was running through the Zurich, Switzerland airport, desperately trying to beat the 10 remaining minutes on my watch before my Chicago-bound plane departed. Still holding back the waterfall.

And then I was home. Waking to the voices of my own family-not my Israeli family. Running the streets of Chicagoland suburbs-not the empty Shabbat streets of Kiryat Gat. 

Why was I holding back this waterfall? 

I embarked on my Kefiada journey to experience the real Israel-the Israel that neither my BBYO trip, family trip, nor Write On for Israel trip showed me. I returned from Israel having experienced. The lazy Shabbat afternoons spent with family watching the World Cup game, the evening strolls to the nearby park, and making friendship bracelets with my Israeli campers-the campers to whom I was not able to say "l'hitraot." Not good bye-despite this being an English-speaking camp. There will be a next time.

I returned home from Israel wondering. How will this experience shape my future in the Jewish community? What will my impact be? Spending more college summers working in Israel. Continuing my advocacy on the Hill. Becoming a part of Federation Leadership. Wherever and however I can positively impact Israel
the most.

"Follow your heart, and you will go far," engraved in Hebrew on the silver, heart-shaped necklace that encompasses my being. The inside of this necklace reads my name, Chanah, the name I still hear my host family calling me. Chanah'le … Chan'oosh. I will continue to follow my heart. 

Undistorted by a waterfall. Seeing where my path takes me. Experiencing the not-yet-experienced.  

Hannah Schlacter,  a business student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was a counselor this summer at Kefiada, the English-speaking summer camp of JUF's Partnership Together region of Kiryat Gat-Lachish-Shafir. After orientation and a week of camp, the Home Front Command in Israel cancelled the program due to the conflict in Gaza. 

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