This summer, 16 teens traveled to Israel as part of the
Diller program. (Check out their PICTURES!) One participant shared that “Israel Summer Seminar with Diller
Teen Fellows taught me about Leadership, Israel, Tikkun Olam, Judaism,
Peoplehood, and Pluralism. But mostly, it taught me about myself.” 5
participants reflect on their experiences below.
Travel Days- Emma
On the first night of our trip, my cohort listened to Bob
Dylan’s “Forever Young.” Bob Dylan wrote, “May you always do for others, And
let others do for you.” The first part of Dylan’s quote, “May you always do for
others,” has always made sense to me. However, I spent the next three weeks
learning the meaning of the second part, “let others do for you.”
The next morning, our first morning in Israel, I experienced
the literal meaning of this message. Because of a small bout of dehydration, I
had to “let others do” for me. On this day, we visited David Ben Gurion’s tomb
at Sde Boker. As Ben Gurion took a pragmatic step to achieve his dreams, we
took a literal first step together. In addition, on this first full day,
through our slight fear of Ibexes in Mitzpe Ramon and an enlightening
Acrobalance experience, my cohort as a whole learned to “lean” on each other.
The second day of our trip embodied Bob Dylan’s quote on
many levels. We visited an IDF officer training base, which resonated strongly
with the idea of “May you always do for others, And let others do for you.”
After witnessing the life of an army officer in the ridiculous desert heat, we
repelled down the Ramon Crater. The idea of relying on someone to not let me
fall scared me, and still scares me, but I was supported, literally and
metaphorically, by these 15 teenagers who somehow became my family.
Our travel days continued with a sunrise bus ride to Masada.
We climbed Masada where the history, view, and all around atmosphere inspired
me in ways that I cannot put into words. Ein Gedi, Masada’s geographical
antithesis, was also incredible and I found myself astoundingly grateful for
the opportunity to experience such diversity in life. We continued our journey to
Jerusalem where I felt the streets of the Old City breathe life into my bones
and hope into my Jewish heart. Being in the Old City felt like stepping into
history, but history had Chasidic men on motorcycles. In Jerusalem, “May you
always do for others, And let others do for you,” felt like a blessing.
On our final travel days with our local cohort we spent the
morning at Machaneh Yehudah, the “shuk”, and I was very shook. With so much to
take in, I was grateful for the familiarity of the people around, especially
since I knew that later that day we would be surrounded by hundreds of
international Diller Teen Fellows.
Although we were only four days into our three week journey,
I could already feel myself growing to embrace the message of Bob Dylan’s
Shabbaton- Rachel Aranyi
I walked across the plush lawn: a hug from Johannesburg, a
secret handshake from Montreal, a wave from Boston.
Disparate in culture, nationality and religious observance,
we were anything but uniform. However, our Judaism, in whatever form it
manifests itself, our experiences as Diller Teen Fellows, and our unwavering
love for the State of Israel, unify and bond all 250 of us together.
After numerous games of Jewish geography, multiple
conversations about pluralism, a couple pep rallies and losing countless games
of soccer (or should I say "football") to some Argentinians and South
Africans, I knew I could walk up to any Fellow and find a connection. I felt
This is the power of the Diller Teen Fellows International
I am inspired to learn more Jewish history, to understand
the complexities and philosophies of the Jewish community. I feel emboldened by
the fantastic work my peers are executing all over the globe to make a change
in my town. I'm more passionate about advocating for our small, sandy Jewish
I've always been told that the Jewish people are a tribe,
yet this amorphous concept is one that must be directly experienced. Until I
encountered and grappled with the vast intellectual and spiritual diversity of
those in the diaspora, I couldn't grasp that I am a legacy, a beneficiary and a
representative of the rich tapestry of global Jewry. After International
Shabbaton, I have a deeper understanding of my own Jewish identity.
Community Week- Ellie
Community Week (CW) is the week where Chicagoans stay with
Israeli host families in our partnership region in Kiryat Gat, Lachish, and
Shafir. (Together, Kiryat Gat, Shafir, Lachish, and Chicago make our amazing
partnership- Kashlash!). Each day during CW has a specific theme that is
planned by a joint Israeli/Chicago committee, but the experience is much more
than just those seven days in Israel. We -the Chicagoans and Israelis- started
planning CW almost as soon as we met this past March. When we began the process
of deciding on the themes, meeting in committees, and planning activities,
Community Week seemed a lifetime away. Moving through the planning, finalizing
our activities and getting assigned to host families, brought the week closer
and closer. Looking back on CW, there is no way that I could have known back in
March how much it would impact me and how amazing it would truly be.
My first night at the moshav in Lachish, where I was staying
with my host family, I immediately felt at home. I was lucky to have 2 Israeli
fellows staying at the host home and each night we would talk and laugh
together. These girls became my Israeli sisters in less than a week.
CW was a way to explore the region and get to
know Israel through the Israeli Fellows’ eyes. The culture committee organized
a potluck dinner, assigning each family a dish from a distinct culture living
in Israel (Russian, Ethiopian, etc.). We had Moroccan stew and couscous, mini
burritos, shakshuka, burekas, and chocolate chip cookies. This shared meal
allowed us to learn about the diversity of cultures in Israel, and it was
special because these were cultures and places that impact our Israelis’ families
and Israel as a whole. Enjoying a casual dinner and conversation with our host
community in the partnership region allowed me to appreciate the power of the
partnership on a personal level.
Another way that we connected with our Israelis was during a
hike planned by the Teva (Nature) committee.
Through this hike, we experienced a unique aspect of the region, and we
were able to recognize the importance of nature in our Israelis’ everyday
lives. As Kashlash, we were able to push ourselves and enjoy being together in
the beautiful nature of Israel.
Shabbat was one of my favorite parts of CW. I had Shabbat
dinner with my host family’s extended family at their grandfather’s house. In a
way, the family reminded me of my own back home with their energy, delicious
food, and kindness. But of course, the foods were different, the family was
speaking in Hebrew, and I was in Israel! After dinner, a large group of fellows
spent time together at a home in Kiryat Gat. Being together, without the
distraction of phones or technology, allowed us all to appreciate each other
and the amazing week that we had together.
Global Diller Teen
Fellows Congress- Elliott Gold
A highlight of our Israel Summer Seminar is the Global
Diller Teen Fellows Congress, a gathering of all Diller Teen Fellows from around
the world. There were almost 700 Jewish teens from 32 communities worldwide
discussing the core principles of the Diller program, including Leadership, Jewish
Peoplehood, Israel, Tikkun Olam, and Pluralism. This was an overwhelming
experience at first, but we were broken up into small groups of 20 teens from
around the world and given the opportunity to connect in a deep and meaningful
way. These sessions, and the chance to discuss hot topics facing the Jewish
community with teens from such diverse backgrounds was one of the most
impactful experiences of my time in Diller.
One conversation with teens from Israel, Canada, and
Argentina stands out in particular. We began in an organized session discussing
Israel, and continued our discussion for an hour into the break. It was so
powerful to exchange and debate social and political ideas with Jewish teens
from communities so different then my own. And in doing so, I not only learned
about their opinions, but their day-to-day lives as well.
Through these conversations I discovered what may be obvious
to some, but what many of us so easily forget: We are all people. We are all
Jewish people. We may live in communities spread out over 6 continents, but I
discovered that I can still joke around and play games with them as if they have
been friends for years. And more importantly, I was able to engage in
meaningful conversations about important issues facing Israel and the Jewish
It wasn’t all serious dialogue at Congress, we also had the
opportunity to socialize and mingle informally. In particular, the Closing
Ceremony (and dance) stands out as a highlight. I've never danced like I did on
that last night. I may not have had the chance to get to know every person at
the conference, but during that dance party it did not matter. We were all out
there together having fun and letting loose.
These 4 days were the most "Jewish" I've ever felt.
Being surrounded by so many other Jewish teens, having difficult conversations
about the world we live in, and dancing, gave me a sense of connection I’ve
never felt before. Diller Teen Fellows has changed my life for so many reasons
and the Congress had one of the greatest impacts on me. It gave me the
opportunity to wrestle with new ideas, forced me to think outside the box,
taught me how to work with people from all over the world, and introduced me to
a new definition of the word "family".
Final Days- Max
Spending our last few days in Israel with our
Partnership2gether region of Kiryat Gat, Lachish, and Shafir proved to be one
of the most meaningful parts of my Israel Summer Seminar. During that time, we
celebrated Shabbat together at Kibbutz Gonen and explored the Jordan River and
its tributaries by hiking and rafting (and swimming) and biking.
Sightseeing with Kashlash (Kiryat-Gat, Lachish, Shafir, and
Chicago) was particularly meaningful because we were able to deepen our connections
to each other and create a shared connection to the land of Israel. Rafting stands
out as a highlight not only because, after 3 weeks in Israel, the fellows and
staff were ready to let loose and have fun by splashing and dunking each other.
But also because as we paddled down the river, we were also able to absorb a
different side of our homeland. As we floated downstream, the river became less
a natural waterpark, and more a part of the living Israel, as we observed
families, groups of friends, and “regular” Israelis coming to the river for
barbecues, to dance and hangout, and to enjoy the beauty (and cool water) of
Shabbat and Havdalah
was one of the most special experiences of my life. On Shabbat, there were two
service options: an Orthodox minyan or a musical Shabbat experience. I chose
the musical Shabbat and enjoyed sharing and learning prayers, songs, and
beautiful music. We spent Shabbat thinking about how to take the lessons of the
Israel Summer Seminar and the friendships we developed back home to Chicago.
Just before Shabbat came to a close, we had one last session with our Israeli partnership.
Together we reflected on our Diller experience, celebrated the friendships we made,
and shared funny stories and meaningful memories from our 3 weeks in Israel,
and our 7 months of working together as a partnership. And as the sun went down,
we huddled together for the Havdalah service
and sang songs to welcome a new week. It was an emotional evening, as we said
goodbye to our Israeli brothers and sisters.
It was so difficult to say goodbye to our Israeli friends, not knowing
when, or if, we might ever see them again. Yet we are so thankful for the
experiences we shared and these relationships, and are proud to be a part of
this global family.
The Diller Teen Fellows experience has increased the size of
my world, both locally and globally. The experiences and friendships I have
created with my local cohort have opened my eyes to the diversity in the
Chicagoland Jewish community. And my experiences and friendships with our
Israeli partnership have challenged my global perspective as well. From meeting
our Israeli cohort during the Jewish Community Mifgash in March, 2017 to the Diller
Teen Fellows International Shabbaton, to the Global Congress, my perspective
has changed, challenged, and shaped. As we left Congress, our Israeli cohort,
and Israel, I realized that although I was going home, I will always have a
home with Diller Teen Fellows, KASHLASH Cohort 4, and Israel.