How Did JITLI Change This Teen’s Perspective on Israel?

When you support Federation, you help fund life-changing trips to Israel, through programs such as JITLI, allowing teens to experience Israel first-hand. A major component of the JITLI experience is engaging and learning from not only Israeli Jews, but from Israeli Arabs and Palestinians. The dialogue, they hope, will create a mutual understanding between the groups and help secure the future of the State of Israel. The connection to the land, the people, and their Jewish heritage is a connection that lasts a lifetime. Thank you for all that you do.

By Simon Shapiro, JITLI 2016 Participant

In order for a muscle to grow it must be met with resistance. That is why bodybuilders spend hours a day lifting heavy weights. Bodybuilders intentionally challenge themselves because they know what it takes grow and improve. When I signed up to partake in The Gary and Jerri-Ann Jacobs International Teen Leadership Institute (JITLI) experience, I was taking a leap of faith and intentionally challenging myself. Going to Israel and living amongst Bedouin Arabs was my way of stepping outside of my comfort zone and initiating personal growth.

As a white middle class male in an idealistic democratic country, I haven’t had to deal with any real adversity. I live with my close-knit family of five in a cookie-cutter suburban bubble. I have my own car, my own smartphone, and I take things like running water, electricity, and Wi-Fi for granted. I’m expected to attend a four-year university and I have the opportunity to one day become an affluent, contributing member of society. It was important for me to travel outside of my bubble to see this great life of mine is not a reality for everyone.

Before my trip to Israel, I had no idea what it was like to be in the “real world”. After living with Bedouin Arabs and seeing the hardships they faced in the Negev, all of my problems seemed irrelevant and petty. Traveling through Israel with such a polarized group forced me to open my mind.

If someone would have asked me before this trip what I thought about Israel, I probably would have told them I saw it as a dangerous place because of what the media chooses to show us. I would have likely condemned Israel because their Government doesn’t exactly meet the criteria for an ideal democracy. These are opinions which would be tough to alter by the anecdotes of others, which is why it was so crucial for me to take that long flight from LAX and have the Israel experience first-hand.

After my trip to Israel I can honestly say I had never felt safer. Israel is a jewel in the Middle East and even though there are very apparent political issues, I can see why this country has a special place in the hearts of all who visit it. My beliefs were challenged, and sometimes beliefs that were dearest to me were put to the test, but like a muscle I grew, and in the end I came out a better and more mature person.

I would like to thank My Israel Journey for making this trip possible. From it I have learned to appreciate the land of Israel and the life I have here in America. As a result of this journey I have matured in ways I could never have imagined, and my eyes have been opened wider.

If you would like to support important programs like this, please donate to Federation today.


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