In January, I arrived in Israel to begin my semester at NFTY-EIE High School, a four-month study abroad program through the Union for Reform Judaism. Simply put, NFTY-EIE has been the best experience of my life. I have only been here for a couple of months and not only have I made lifelong friends, but I am learning so much about Jewish culture, Israel, and myself. At EIE, I take all the classes required by my school in the U.S., in addition to Hebrew and Jewish History. Jewish History is three hours long, but it feels like thirty minutes. I know I can expect engaging debates, compelling lectures, and lots of laughs every day in class, but especially when we leave Kibbutz Tzuba and go on a field trip.
Out of our many trips, my favorite by far has been to Masada. Our hike began at 4:15 a.m. I thought getting out of bed that early would be the biggest challenge, but I was so wrong. My hiking buddy and I were panting by the time we reached the top and my legs were on fire, but the feeling of gratification and accomplishment when we finally got there made the hike worthwhile. After the sun began to rise I realized how beautiful Eretz Yisrael really is. The breathtaking view of the land surrounding me transcended all the political drama and conflict surrounding the country.
Another trip I really enjoyed was going into the churches of Jerusalem. Ironically, this experience helped me find new meaning in my religion. We learned about the formation of Christianity and, more specifically, how it stemmed from Judaism. For the first time, I questioned my Jewish traditions and values. If Christianity was so appealing, what made people stay Jewish? While I have no intention of leaving Judaism, my experience at the churches made me consider the deeper meaning behind the Jewish commandments and customs, allowing me to see my identity through a different light.
Leah Berger is a junior from Lincoln, MA. She is a member of Beth El Temple Center in Belmont and goes to Lincoln Sudbury Regional High School.