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'Living' in Israel

My Israel Story – Immersed in the Holy Land

'A unique memory, that I am forever grateful to have, is calling my parents one day to ask if I had permission to enter Gaza. We were just days away from the Israeli disengagement.'

  • Volunteering in Shlomi. The IBC volunteer group helped the local children paint murals on the wall in town.
    Volunteering in Shlomi. The IBC volunteer group helped the local children paint murals on the wall in town.
  • Visiting the settlements in Gaza just prior to the disengagement.
    Visiting the settlements in Gaza just prior to the disengagement.
  • Jerusalem tour.
    Jerusalem tour.
  • Finishing the Yam L'Yam hike from the Mediterranean Sea to the Kinneret. The group did the hike as part of the 'half-way day' celebrations.
    Finishing the Yam L'Yam hike from the Mediterranean Sea to the Kinneret. The group did the hike as part of the 'half-way day' celebrations.
  • Jessica volunteering at the local high school in Shlomi, teaching the children English.
    Jessica volunteering at the local high school in Shlomi, teaching the children English.
  • Jessica (middle) with midrichim Ganit and Yaakov.
    Jessica (middle) with midrichim Ganit and Yaakov.

I am fortunate to have been to Israel several times, albeit for very different experiences.

My first trip overseas was on a UIA family mission to Israel in 1997. I was 11 years old and once I arrived, my love affair began.

It continued through the March of the Living program in 2003, Maccabiah in 2013, and a meaningful family holiday to heal after my mum passed away in 2015.

And in the middle of all of those, I spent six months living in Israel as part of the first ever Israel by Choice (IBC) program in 2005. I knew I wanted to spend much of my gap year exploring our beautiful homeland. And as promised, the months were spent truly immersed in Israeli culture.

My memories are dotted with long drives between Shlomi on the Lebanon border, where I spent time volunteering, and Jerusalem, where we were based. Spectacular tiyulim where we hiked for hours, cramming too many bodies into small tents to camp in the middle of the desert, countless hours looking after children on the kibbutz, flitting between nightclubs as we found our independence and of course, spending weekends with my family who live there.

One of my fondest memories is sitting on the edge of the Mitzpe Ramon crater, left for hours to our own thoughts.

We did everything a tourist would possibly do, travelling right up to Metula and right down to Eilat. We traipsed through the Ir David tunnels, marvelled at the Baha’i Temple in Haifa, ate hummus in Akko, wandered the streets of Tzfat and enjoyed bonfires on the beach.

We experienced Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut as Israelis would. We listened to testimonies from Holocaust survivors and heard stories from our Israeli madrichim of their friends who never made it home from their army service. I distinctly recall my madrich telling us that despite his friend’s tombstone saying he was 20, to Yaakov, he was “forever 19”. And then, remembering all these moments, we celebrated Israel’s 57th birthday, appreciative of her promise to always welcome us with open arms.

A unique memory, that I am forever grateful to have, is calling my parents one day to ask if I had permission to enter Gaza. We were just days away from the Israeli disengagement and we knew this was our final opportunity to go. We tuned into the news intently in the lead-up to our visit to Gush Katif, watching as many settlers vowed to resist the withdrawal, equating the disengagement to ‘ethnic cleansing’. And while we toured the settlements, we heard directly from them, as they shared their stories.

Like many who have travelled to Israel, my memories are also of lockdowns due to terror threats, speeding out of Sderot when rocket sirens sounded, and a Hezbollah tower as the view from my bedroom in Shlomi – the juxtapositions of Israeli life.

In true Israel program style, we finished our trip with individualised souvenir clothing, a CD of photos – that I now can no longer view because I don’t have a CD drive in my computer – and a rewritten song. And I will never be able to sing Save Tonight by Eagle Eye Cherry with the proper lyrics again.

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