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Living the Dream: My NFTY in Israel Experience by Josh Jury

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Hi Springboard blog!

Now that I’m home after a spectacular four-weeks on the NFTY in Israel, Chalutzim Baaretz trip, I’m writing to share my experience! 

I’ve known since I was really young that I wanted to travel to Israel and so although the trip was anticipated, my expectations of the holy land were vastly different from what I was pleasantly greeted with. Stepping off the plane we were asked if we believed Israel were an ancient or modern place… I can confidently say now it’s both! 

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Before embarking on my trip I had expected that Israel would be desert-like. I had expected that there would be a challenging language barrier. I even thought that technology-wise, it would lack in vast coverage of the most up-to-date things. These expectations were not correct. Israel is lush and green with a plentiful amount of trees, beautiful mountains like the blue ridge parkway, and palm trees spread across the coasts. There is definitely desert in the south, but northern Israel has rivers, streams, waterfalls, cooler weather, and stunning views. As for language barriers, in the cities we stayed in like Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Petah Tikva, Poriya… a language barrier was practically non-existent. I found that most Israelis speak really good English and learn it in their high school curriculum. It wasn’t a struggle to get around and understand what locals were saying when walking through malls, markets, Ben Yehuda Street, etc,. Lastly, I was impressed by how modern Israel is. Technology is a strategic and important part of the countries infrastructure and that was clear the moment we arrived at Ben Gurion Airport. Virtual desks were waiting for us to scan our passport and get our ID for time there. Electric cars were parked along the streets outside. And so was the booming and towering city that Tel Aviv is. Tel Aviv reminds me a lot of Miami, a bright coastal city with tall buildings and beautiful beaches. 

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I’ve been asked a lot lately about what my highlight of the trip was, but there were so many highlights I couldn’t possibly narrow it down to one. 

One of the staples of the trip is the 4-day choose your own adventure. And of the options we were given, I chose one called Yam L’Yam, which is Hebrew for Sea to Sea. The trip is the 47 mile hike from the Sea of Galilee to the Mediterranean. I love camping and I love hiking, but in all honestly, when I first arrived to that trip, at our first campsite I was a bit shaken by just how rustic this type of camping was. There weren’t tents, but rather mats and sleeping bags to lay on and of course showers were a thing of the past. Although not the most glamorous of the trips, all we needed was each other to make it worthwhile and push through for the awesome hikes ahead. This trip, unlike the rest, was united with all of the other NFTY in Israel groups. We were split into our hiking groups and quickly made strong friendships with people from all over the states. Days were full. We’d wake up with the sun around 5am and hike up until 4pm at the next campsite. Our guide, Shay, would explain the historical paths of the crusades that we were hiking on and point out all the beautiful parts of the nature around us. The trails were rocky and up through the geode filled mountains. Ruins and ancient castles could be seen hovering above at the peaks of mountains. Some trails were water hikes through rivers and creeks. Full of wildlife and flowering (some thorny) bushes. There were definitely tough moments were we had to push ourselves, but we were all there in a joint effort and lifted each other up (physically and metaphorically). Nights were spent under the stars in skies absent of light pollution.

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Over the course of the trip we traveled all throughout the country in our tour bus led by Shailee and counselors Asaf, Omer, and Ellen. They kept us hyped up and prepared for all in the days ahead and I am so grateful and lucky for to have had them as counselors.

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Constantly on the move, we visited an archeological site from the time of the Maccabees and found ancient vase pieces. We went to important spiritual and religious land marks like the western wall. All of the trip was eventful, even the more relaxed moments like sipping fresh fruit smoothies on the beach at the Mediterranean to floating in the Dead Sea. But there was also  hiking in underground water canals below the City of David to going on banana boats in the Kineret and going rafting down a stream later the same week. There was never a dull moment. 

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Israel as a place was incredible and my time there was some of the best of my life. Besides the place though, the people and friends with me are definitely what made this experience so impactful and full of memories. Thinking about the experiences I had in that month is so surreal that it almost feels like a fever dream. I can’t wait to be back.

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About the Author: Josh Jury is a member of temple Etz Chaim and a junior at Homewood-Flossmoor High School. In his free time he likes to read, bike, travel, and he enjoys photography. Josh is active in NFTY CAR and has served on the social action committee. He enjoys spending his summers at URJ OSRUI.