Young Judaism: Back to Her Roots - With Help from Federation

Local teen had a learning adventure in Israel with help from Federation

By Maya Kaufman / Special to the BJV

This summer I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Roots Israel Service Learning Adventure, a community service program of the Jewish National Fund and the Alexander Muss High School in Israel. For three weeks I traveled, learned, and volunteered with 20 teens from all over North America and a few from Europe, too. I made many new friends and had amazing experiences as we traveled from the north of Israel all the way to the south.

One of the reasons I liked this trip was the many opportunities we had to volunteer. I think this was the best way to really learn about the people of Israel. We visited and played water games with disabled youth at the Ilanot School in Jerusalem, helped clear walking paths for the disabled in the Carmel Forest, and packed food baskets for those in need with Yad Ezra. However, my favorite volunteer activity was at an organization called Save A Child’s Heart at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, Israel. This organization has helped over 5,000 children who have heart problems and need cardiac care. They help children regardless of where they live or come from, including kids from the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Iraq and many other countries. I got to spend time and play games with two Ethiopian girls. They were so sweet and, while we had some language barriers, we gave each other lots of hugs!  

We spent one weekend in Jerusalem. On Friday evening, we gathered to sing and dance while saying the prayers for Kabbalat Shabbat. One of my favorite places I visited there was the Western Wall. Seeing all these people coming together to pray at this ancient site made me feel like I was part of something much bigger than myself. At home, being Jewish has always felt a little like I was on the outside, but here I felt equal.  

I also liked visiting Mt. Herzel and learning about the many soldiers and people who risked their lives for the State of Israel and the Jewish People. While there, we visited the grave of a lone soldier. He had been a participant in the Alexander Muss High School in Israel program and it had such an impact on him, that he had made the decision to join the IDF.  My father was a soldier in the IDF and maybe I will consider doing the same one day.

Traveling and learning about Israel made me feel like there was much more to being Jewish and being a part of the Jewish People than just what I had learned at Hebrew school and at camp.  I hope to go back one day to spend more time learning about and experiencing my Jewish homeland. I think I would really like to spend a semester studying there.

I am very grateful to the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires for helping me have this experience.

Maya Kaufman is a 9th grader at Wahconah Regional High School.