A travel experience that made him feel more open about being Jewish at home

By Avi Snowise / Special to the BJV

In January 2019, I flew into Tel Aviv, Israel, planning to stay for four months as part of a high school abroad program called TRY (Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim) - sponsored in part by the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires  Going into this trip, I expected the basics: to experience some culture, meet some nice people, and travel a bit around Israel. In fact, I loved everything about Israel and this trip changed my views on the importance of living in a Jewish community.

I traveled to the most northern and southern parts of Israel and everywhere in between.  Our time in the south included hiking in Eilat, learning about the algae farm and solar energy production at Kibbutz Ketura and visiting a Bedouin community where we shared a delicious meal and slept in heated Bedouin tents. I visited the Negev desert and hiked Masada.  We also spent a lot of time traveling around Jerusalem and the middle of Israel. I enjoyed our trips to the Western Wall (Kotel) and the Old City. I had many great times in Tel Aviv and on the beach. Toward the end of our time in Israel, we drove up north to the Kineret and the Golan, where we stood on a kibbutz right at the finger of the Golan that overlooked southern Lebanon. These trips taught me a lot about Israel and I am looking forward to going back.

But, although I had great experiences traveling, what really came home with me was a stronger love for the country of Israel and my Jewish identity.  I was in Israel for Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, and Yom HaAtzmaut. These three days and are very important days in the lives of all Israelis and had the most significant impact on me. On Yom HaShoah, the entire country stops whatever they are doing and stands together in silence for two minutes as they remember all who were lost in the Holocaust. Yom HaZikaron is another day of remembrance that brings everyone together. This day remembers and honors all fallen soldiers and victims of terror. When night falls at the end of Yom HaZikaron the entire country of Israel changes its mood as Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, settles in. Israel’s mood switches from mournful to celebratory, and everyone parties in the streets to honor their country.

These three days were the most rewarding time for me because I learned so much.  Experiencing the lowest of the lows and the highest of the highs with the entire country was moving in ways I did not anticipate. At those moments, I felt like I was a part of the country and not just a kid who was in school there for four months. I felt like I had a place in Israel and I was welcome there.

Here in the Berkshires we live in a very small, but strong, Jewish community. For me, Judaism and family have always been my first priorities.  Still, in Israel, I loved that everywhere I went there were Jewish people. I felt that I could be more confident and open as a Jewish person for the first time. I davened Mincha on the side of the road, I came home with four siddurim, and I even comfortably wore a kippah in public. This travel experience has made me feel more open about being Jewish at home. It has also instilled in me a long-lasting love for Israel, and helped me find people I now consider family. Thank you, Federation, for helping to make this experience possible.

Avi Snowise is a senior at Pittsfield High School.  He attended Camp Ramah in New England for nine summers before going on the TRY program in Israel this past spring.  He has been a bar mitzvah and Torah trope tutor at Knesset Israel. In addition, he is the varsity soccer goalie at PHS, a certified ski instructor who teaches at Bousquet, and loves playing ultimate frisbee with a club in the area.