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Reflections on Diller Israel Summer Seminar

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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 Canter

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 quote.

International 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 our peoplehood.

This is the power of the Diller Teen Fellows International Shabbaton.

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 homeland, Israel.

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 Rosenberg

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 people.

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 Marino

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 the river.

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.