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Lia Chazan's ShinShinim Experience

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The ShinShinim program is the “year of service program” that offers Israeli high school graduates an opportunity to delay mandatory service in the Israel Defense Forces and serve Diaspora communities for up to 10 months. The program allows communities to meet young Israeli ambassadors who perform meaningful service prior to entering the army. 

Lia Chazan, a student at Rochelle Zell Jewish High School and active member of BBYO, shares her experience of hosting ShinShinim in her home. Click the video below to learn more about her experience.

The iCenter’s new Shinshinim, Israeli gap year volunteers, are arriving this September and are looking for some awesome host families for the fall and spring semesters. Click  here for more info about hosting and  here for some reflections from two former Shinshinim. Contact  Elana with any questions.

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. 

Finding Judaism On My Own Terms by David Tapper

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About the prompt: JUF runs an internship for college age students to work at JUF or other Jewish agenecies and organizations in the Chicago area over the summer. This is called the Lewis Summer Intern Program (LSIP). Springboard reached out to the interns and provided a platform for them to share about  their different Jewish journeys. David Tapper, an intern on the Marketing and Communication department at JUF, shares in his blog below how he is Jewish beyond high school.  

Before starting college, being Jewish had never been a self-directed endeavor. My dad used to drive me to Hebrew school and my mom picked me up. My entire family would go to High Holiday services together. My life as a young Jewish person was organized by family, by synagogue, and by structured event participation. Being Jewish was about acting Jewishly.

Although I do retrospectively appreciate these aspects of my adolescent Jewish life, I can’t help but remember them as annoyances for my younger self. Admittedly, no one really wants to wake up early every Sunday for Hebrew school–unless of course Purim was approaching and the prospect of hamantaschen seemed promising. Going to synagogue, sitting through prayers, or fasting for Yom Kippur always felt like activities that I did because I was Jewish and because that’s what Jews do.

Last fall, I began my first year of college. Aside from the entirely optional Hillel and Chabad, there was no real sense of Jewish obligation. My family was back in Chicago–as were the directing forces of my religious life–and I felt the freedom to forget Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. Even Hanukkah nearly slipped my mind. First semester flew by, and my Jewish identity narrowly hung on by the thread that was flying home for my brother’s Bar Mitzvah. By December, I found myself with an even blurrier picture of my major, religious devotion, and identity. This isn’t to say that avoiding synagogue left me bereft of a sense of self, but rather that the freedom to forget which comes along with moving away from home removed the structure from my life, leaving a space to fill with my own structure.

In the last weeks of winter break, I decided to enroll in “Kabbalah: An Introduction to Jewish Mysticism.” Kabbalah changed my life. Kabbalah radically challenged, reinterpreted, and revitalized an aspect of my identity I had allowed to lie dormant for my entire life. Scholar Daniel Matt refers to Kabbalah’s foundational work, the Zohar, as a collection of “New-Ancient words,” reflecting on the central idea that the Zohar, in all its revolutionary inventiveness, seeks to draw upon primordial knowledge, upon truths which have always existed hidden in the words of Torah. Kabbalah also follows the Neoplatonic trend of viewing the human as a microcosm of the universe. As such, Kabbalah posits that these primordial truths exist within humans.

From Kabbalah, I have gained an intense interest in the history of Jewish thought, particularly with regard to the ancient wisdom contained within humans. I have spent this summer reading 20th century Jewish existentialist thought with my rabbi and thinking about how Martin Buber’s I and Thou and Emmanuel Levinas’ Totality and Infinity take central themes of the Zohar and run with them. The conclusions are different, but the ideas are the same. Buber and Levinas build on Kabbalah, inverting its focus on the individual and suggesting that mysticism has a place in our everyday lives and relationships with others. 

I have discovered that Judaism has many paths of engagement and that for me, being Jewish is about learning to think Jewishly. The space in my life left unstructured certainly is not full–I doubt it will be anytime soon. But I have begun to plant seeds in hope that a verdant garden might grow in place of the barren structure that once was. Maybe someday my garden will be lush, and I can build up the old structure again, a trellis on which the climbing plants and fruit trees I have sowed may continue to grow.

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About the Author: David Tapper is a sophomore at Brown University majoring in Religious Studies and Philosophy. David is interested in the history of Jewish thought as well as the nexus between philosophy and literature. At Brown, David is involved with the Religious Studies Department Undergraduate Group, the A Priori Philosophy Magazine, and the Old-Time String Band. After completing his undergraduate studies, David is excited to pursue further academic studies by attending graduate school for a masters and PhD in Religious Studies. This summer, David was a Lewis Summer Intern in the JUF Marketing and Communications department and participated in an independent study with his rabbi.