Highly Successful YAD Trip to Israel

Last month, our Young Adult Division (YAD) completed an outstanding trip to Israel, as part of the annual Jewish Federations of North America National Young Leadership expedition to Israel. Our delegation more than doubled since last year, with an impressive 20 young adults participating - among the largest delegations!  Read on for accounts from two participants, Katie and Tami, who both had a fantastic, not to mention transformational, experience.

A Deeper Understanding of Israel

by Katie Gerber


When I first heard that the San Francisco Jewish Federation’s Young Adult Division was going on a mission trip to Israel and was offering generous subsidies that would make it financially feasible for me to go, my instant reaction was “Sign me up!”. But then my second reaction kicked in, fear. It would be a big group of people from San Francisco and around the country. I wouldn’t know anyone on the trip and I tend to be shy in big groups. I hesitated for a bit. Ultimately though, I set my fears aside and plunged into the subsidy application. Time flew by, and before I knew it, I was on a plane headed to Tel Aviv.

Needless to say, despite my shyness I quickly met many amazing people on the trip. There was an instant camaraderie among the group starting from the very first night, and it grew more and more each day as we shared incredible Israel experiences like climbing Masada before dawn and watching some of the trip participants become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah at sunrise, dancing the night away with an inspiring group of young IDF soldiers, and visiting Susan’s House, a wonderful SF Federation supported organization that gives at-risk teens the opportunity to learn the art of glassmaking in a supportive environment where they can develop the life and work skills critical to their ability to be successful long-term.

By the time we arrived in Jerusalem, about halfway through the trip, it felt like we were a group of old friends. On our first full day there, we set out for a visit to the City of David archaeological site. We happily left the heat of the sun behind as we descended beneath the surface into the strikingly cooler underground tunnel that connects the City of David to the Western Wall. As we walked through the narrow underground passageway, there was an air of excitement and happiness among the group. It was hard to imagine how different it must have felt for the Jews who took shelter there in that very same tunnel in 70 CE as the Romans conquered the city using it as their last place of refuge before fleeing Jerusalem forever.

Toward the end of the tunnel, as the passageway widened we noticed little pieces of paper in between the cracks of the stone wall. Our tour guide explained, much to my surprise, that they were notes people had pushed through the Western Wall with their prayer requests. We were actually inside the Kotel. It felt magical, humbling and overwhelming all at the same time to be there. I realized how incredibly lucky we were. So many generations before us never had that chance.

As our trip drew to a close, we visited Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, where we had the opportunity to sit in the room where David Ben-Gurion declared the independence of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, just three years after the liberation of the camps in Europe. After watching a recording of his speech, we sat in silence together as the haunting melody of Israel’s national anthem, Ha Tikvah (The Hope), filled the room. The emotion in the room was palpable as we all reflected quietly on the bravery of that first generation of Israelis. Afterward, our guide told us she was about to send her third and youngest son to the IDF. She asked us to tell people back home, “We never get used to it. Every time is the first time.”

It is so easy for our generation to take Israel’s existence for granted. Israel has always been there during our lifetime. But going on the trip gave me the opportunity to experience first hand how much the people of Israel look to us in the diaspora for support and that we cannot afford to take Israel’s existence for granted. We all have a role to play, whether through financial support, political support, or by acting as ambassadors to the rest of the world on Israel’s behalf. Back home, here in San Francisco, Israel may be just as physically far away as it was before the trip, but it is so much closer to my heart. I am looking forward to being more involved with the work that the SF Federation does to support Israel, and with other young people here who also understand the critical role that each of us has to play.

Discovering a Community

by Tami Wallenstein


One morning on our trip, I was woken at 2:15 AM to scramble up a mountain before the desert sun came out. We were having a bar/bat mitzvah ceremony for those who had not yet had one at the top of Masada, and some of my new friends were participating. During the hike, my sleep-deprived friend and bat mitzvah girl, Mari, began showing signs of dehydration, and the guides urged her to go back down before the sun became brutal. No way was I going to let her miss her Bat Mitzvah. Mari and I had spoken for days about how excited she was, and I knew she had spent time preparing with the trip rabbi. One Camelbak and two electrolyte packets later, Mari reached the top.

It was at the top of Masada that we transformed ourselves from four busloads of people, each with its own geographic sub-culture, into a cohesive community. On that day, Mari and the other b’nei mitzvahs got up in front of 150 of us- whom had only days before been strangers- and expressed the significance of that moment, their happiness, and gratitude to finally experiencing this rite of passage. Many overcame obstacles to get there, whether it be logistics, emotional stumbling blocks, or simply dehydration. Some had little or no Jewish upbringing, some had a lot. We all took different paths to get to the top of Masada, whether we had our bar mitzvah that day or in the past. But at the top of Masada, we became a community, developed a sense of empathy, and bonded through our shared of Jewish identity. No matter where we came from, we were all accepted, welcomed, and loved by one another.

Four years ago I moved to San Francisco with few friends and no job. Federation gave me my first job, and with that came an instant Jewish network and a community of friends with whom I could celebrate holidays and enjoy social events. While I joke that “Federation took me off the streets” by employing me when I moved here, it wasn’t until I was in Israel that I saw that Federation LITERALLY keeps kids off the streets, and in safe environments like Susan’s House, where they learn a craft, or Tira One Stop Employment Center, where are provided with vocational training. And I see how Federation has impacted Mari’s life, and I know she will treasure her bat mitzvah memories forever.

We learned at Independence Hall in Tel Aviv that Israel was established to be the national state of the Jewish people. In Israel, every Jew is accepted and can even become a citizen by virtue of being born a Jew. Living outside of Israel, we don’t all have that sense of community simply by virtue of being Jewish. Federation bridges that gap by making sure all Jews in the Bay Area feel like they have a home and are accepted.

But being part of a community means accepting our collective responsibility to maintain it. Indeed, our trip rabbi taught us that reaching the age of bar/bat mitzvah signifies becoming a full-fledged member of the Jewish community with the responsibilities that come with it.  I, along with my 19 cohorts on the San Francisco trip, returned to San Francisco ready, willing, and able to take on those responsibilities.

To learn more about our Young Adult Division, join our group on Facebook! You can also contact Aaron Saxe at 415.512.6235 to learn more about this trip, and how you can participate in the future.



August 05, 2013


The Federation