Counting Connections: YAD’s Summer Israel Trip

The Young Adult Division's Summer Israel trip took 160 participants from across the nation to experience Israel, climb Masada before dawn, meet Israelis working for social change, build community, and get an insider's perspective at how the Federation unites and cares for Jews in Israel and around the world.

By Desiree Hamaoui

My reason for going to Israel was simple. I missed it. It had been ten years since I last visited and in that time my relationship with Judaism had changed. I suppose I can now admit… I had daddy issues. I had coasted through most of my life riding on the “Jewish” coat tails of my father. He was a pillar in the community and helped build many local synagogues, including the Palo Alto Orthodox Minyan (now called Emek Beracha) and the West Coast Torah Center in Los Angeles. His passion was education and he supported the Yeshiva University in New York and was one of the founders of the Jewish Study Network here in San Francisco. But just like many kids, out of pure defiance, I avoided it as much as possible.

A couple of years ago he passed away and I was left with a large void, especially when it came to Judaism.  Without my father’s strong insistence, I was losing my Jewish identity. My gut (in the form of a friend’s persistence that I should go on the Jewish Federation’s National Young Leadership program) told me I could feel that reconnection with my roots if I went to Israel. Well, my gut was right, but it didn’t end there.

Turns out by traveling some 7,000 miles away I found stronger, deeper roots here at home. As a group we floated in the Dead Sea, walked through Tzfat, explored Jerusalem’s Old City, and mingled with the IDF soldiers. We attended lectures and were guided along so that we could gain a deeper appreciation of the country and its issues (thank you Nadav). And yes, we partied! We danced with Ethiopian dancers in the desert, in Israeli clubs, and at after parties in hotel lobbies.

But it was the moments in between that stood out. As we rafted down the Jordan River, I learned that just like me others were doing their best to navigate the SF dating scene – which like the Jordan River can feel like a long, slow float, filled with prickly turns. When it came to Masada, we didn't just climb it, but celebrated. There at the top of Masada, overlooking the most majestic view, as the colors morphed from a cool grey to a warm red, we stood together and sang as some experienced their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and took on their new Hebrew names (hello to Elior and Avraham). I was fortunate enough to have had a Bat Mitzvah, and yes it was a lavish party with break dancers and all, but on Masada it wasn’t about the party, it was about choosing your own Jewish identity and setting your own course - exactly what I was looking for.

Desiree Hamaoui, back row, 6th from left.


While I admit if you weren’t there, it may sound a little cheesy. But, the truth is, it was that magical. Being in Israel it occurred to me that we are more alike than we know.  While each had different motivations for going, in some way or other all of us are figuring ourselves out. I went because I missed Israel, what I didn’t expect was how much I would really miss the bus count offs (# 12 is here).

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July 31, 2012


The Federation