Feels Like Home


Ashley Grant, Staff Writer

Juniors travel halfway around the world only to find that Israel feels like home. 

As Junior Ethan Bergman sits in New York’s Ben Gurion Airport, excitement and nerves arise as he waits for the plane that will take him 6,000 miles from home to Israel with group of mostly strangers.

“It was like we already had a special connection since we were all Jewish,” Bergman said. “Most of the people on the trip-including me-didn’t live in an area with many Jewish people, so it was an immediate connection that we all had.”

According to Bergman, he was able to build relationships with the others on the trip quickly and more easily than he thought.

“While I have known two people on the trip since preschool, [we were] only somewhat close,” Bergman said. “However, by the end of the trip, they became two of my closest friends.”

Jennifer Gearin, a junior at Edgewood Jr/Sr High School, did not know what to expect when she left for Israel.

“One of the most shocking feelings was how comfortable I felt [in] such an unfamiliar place,” Gearin said. “The feeling of being around people that have had similar experiences as you that you can understand, it’s just such a feeling of love and belonging that I’m absolutely going to be looking for the rest of my life.”

Bergman was able to qualify for the RootOne $3,000 voucher to make the trip more affordable by taking required RootOne classes that he completed in three weeks. The courses taught him basic Hebrew, Israeli government, Israeli culture, and the history of Israeli conflicts.

“After applying and going through the interview process, we were lucky enough to earn the voucher,” Bergman said. “I started to do the classes at the end of last school year, working on them in any free time I had.”

This trip was hosted through “BBYO RootOne Israel Journey” and started in Jerusalem. It went all the way through the country in a total of 22 days.

“On some days it was surfing, or hiking, or traveling around the city,”  Gearin said. “We had a couple of programs a day, and once we got back to where we were staying in the afternoon or at night, we got free time to do what we wanted. In Jerusalem, that meant exploring the city for a little bit.”

Gearin said that the group faced antisemitism in the middle of their trip while exploring, and her group leaders discussed it the night it happened.

“I can admit that it was scary,” Gearin said. “It’s a horrible feeling to be targeted for something that you want so hard to be proud of, and it’s unfortunate that this isn’t uncommon for many other cultures too. We got the chance to talk about how we may have been feeling, and why the antisemitism in a state where we expected to feel safe all the time was a little confusing.”

 Two BBYO Israeli staff guided them on their trip.

 “[Young Israelis] taught us about their way of life and translated Hebrew for us,”  Bergman said. “It was really cool to be able to hang out with them and learn what they had gone through since they both finished serving their mandatory sentence in the army.”

On the trip, Bergman and others stayed three to a room, and experienced housing types outside of the standard hotel.

“Some of the places we stayed, like the kibbutz, a communal living area, were much different compared to the normal hotels that I stayed at,” Bergman said. “The hotels by the beach were nice and modern with ocean views.”

While traveling through Israel, the group tried a variety of foods.

“Israel is a beautifully diverse country, and that stands when it comes to food too,” Gearin said. “We had a lot of Mediterranean food, which was absolutely incredible. We tried Ethiopian food one of the days [that] I was also a fan of. [Israel had] pretty much anything you can imagine.”

According to Bergman, the most memorable moment was visiting the Dead Sea.

“We went swimming in the Dead Sea and were able to ride camels, which was an amazing experience,” Bergman said.

Rebecca Benezera, a junior at Holy Trinity also attended the Israel trip.

 “I always heard about how you can float in the sea because of how much salt there is, and experiencing it firsthand was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done,” Benezera said.

Later that night, after visiting the Dead Sea, the group stayed in the Bedouin tents  until 5 a.m. and hiked mount Masada, where the oldest synagogue still stands.

 “I stayed up all night with my friends and then hiking up for sunrise was so beautiful,” Benezera said. “Getting to the top was so rewarding and I felt such a connection with myself and this land.”

Every Friday and Saturday night Bergman celebrated Shabbat with his group, which is a time to rest and spend with family and friends.

“On Shabbat, we would say a couple prayers and have deep conversations about our religion,” Bergman said. “For the rest of Shabbat we had free time which me and my friends usually spent exploring and really bonding as a group. While we explored the land we met and talked to a lot of really spiritual people and it was cool to see the perspectives on life and Judaism.”

Benezera said her faith grew during her time abroad.

“This trip strengthened my relationship with the people on the trip by connecting through what we all celebrate, Benezera said. “Being surrounded by other Jewish teenagers in the land of our people and our religion was truly the best feeling in the world. I’ll keep these memories and friendships for a lifetime. It was a life changing experience.”