By: Rabbi Loren Sykes- Director of Israel Immersives
The end of the Torah portion we read in Israel this week, Parashat Hukkat, includes a list of many of the places our ancestors visited while wandering in the desert. Almost without exception, the list tells us almost nothing about the places mentioned and mostly reads like this:
“From there, they traveled and stopped at the stream of Zared.”
In a few verses, we are given additional geographical detail like the proximity of place x to place y. The one exception in this reading is the stop at Be’erah. Here, we are told two things that are notable. First, Be’erah was the location of the well where God told Moses to gather the people and bring drinking water from the rock. Second, the Torah tells us that at Be’erah, our ancestors sang a song about what happened there. As for the stops that have no description, they are left for the Sages to fill in the blanks with stories created to teach us a value or give meaning to a location, what we call Midrash.
The itineraries we send out before the summer are very similar to the end of our Torah portion. Day by day, they list the various places the teens will visit. Occasionally, two or three additional words tell you what the teens will do: Snorkeling; ride camels; sleep outside. The details of what participants experience, feel, consider, smell, taste, and see are left for each teen to share with you. They take on the role of the Sage, interpreting and sharing their understanding of the meaning of a place or an activity.
This week, Adventure 1 and 2 wandered in the desert as our ancestors did so long ago (Well, our teens had it slightly more comfortable than did the Israelites). They rode camels at Nokdim and climbed Masada. They visited the Bedouin Tents and slept under the stars in the desert near Eilat. They visited the grave of David Ben Gurion, founder and first Prime Minister of Israel, and will take a Graffiti tour in Tel Aviv. This coming week, they will have their Chavaya, Free Choice Experience where they will either hike from the Kinneret or Sea of Galilee to the Mediterranean Sea, learn about different social service organizations and participate in some volunteer experiences on Tikkun Olam, or get a taste of what basic training is like for soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) during Gadna.
Like Adventure 1 and 2, Adventure 3 and 4 started their trip in the southern desert near Eilat. This coming week, they will learn about ancient and modern Jerusalem. They will visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the City of David and the Western Wall. They will spend time in Tel Aviv and the Carmel Market and Nahalat Binyamin. They will also climb Masada, ride Camels, and see the ancient northern city of Tzippori. Sci-Tech will have a very similar start to their trip.
Despite very similar itineraries, no teen has the same experience in each location. What they notice and think about, how they feel while watching a sunrise or sunset, or what they smell and taste in the different Shukim – outdoor markets – or restaurants they visit will invariably be different from one teen to the next. What they choose to share with you, either right after they go somewhere or six months from now, will differ from teen to teen. Nobody has exactly the same experience here. That is part of the beauty of NFTY in Israel Summer Trips.
Like the end of Parashat Hukkat, we give you the list of places, the “trip-tik” level view of the trip. Your teens will be your Sages and will fill in the details, regale you with funny and meaningful stories, and share with you the personal Jewish connections they made throughout their summer. They may not share the deepest level of detail right away. Be patient and they will paint a glorious picture of the Israel they encountered this summer.