In January, I arrived in Israel to begin my semester on NFTY-EIE High School, a four-month study abroad program through the Union for Reform Judaism.
“Since the first day of our arrival to Israel, I feel like I have spent at least a week or two with every person here. The relationships we have developed with each other are already so strong and they will most likely last a lifetime. I can’t wait for all the adventures and the memories that we are going to make that we will remember forever.”
This was the concluding paragraph of my very first blog post in Israel, which I wrote at the end of January. Since then, not only have I already gone on various life-changing adventures while making unforgettable memories on the way, but I have also become part of the EIE family. To be completely honest, it is a little hard for me to think of the person I was before I left for EIE. At home, I never really felt like my complete self. I had a constant feeling that I was hiding something from my friends and those who surrounded me. However, once I arrived in Israel, I realized that the one thing I was hiding from people at home was my religion. I never felt entirely comfortable speaking about Judaism, and whenever someone said to me “YOU’RE JEWISH?!” I felt slightly awkward. Now, though, living here, surrounded by the Israeli culture and Jewish people, I feel like I can be my complete self without any secrets to hide and nobody to feel awkward around because I am not a minority here. I represent the majority in this country, and that is an indescribable feeling.
EIE has allowed me to truly connect not only to my religion, but to all the people who surround me as well. I am 100% confident the friends I have made on this amazing trip will last a lifetime. I am not sure why I feel so much closer with the people here compared to my friends at home. Maybe it is because we are forced to be around each other every minute of every day, or maybe it’s our shared desire to make our time on EIE the most incredible experience. Perhaps we all “ran away from home” to be here; to step out of our comfort zones and encounter a new world, a new life. Whatever the reason, I feel a stronger attachment to the people I live with here in Israel. There is a deeper meaning to our friendships.
Not only do I have closer relationships with the friends that I have here, but the relationships I have with my teachers are closer, as well. At home, the average teacher-to-student ratio in my classes is one to twenty five, but here on EIE, it’s one to six. Because of this reason alone, students have a huge advantage to get to know our teachers on a more personal level, while also receiving more extra help than we would at our home schools. A lot of school-related stress has been lifted from my shoulders since the first day of classes. Each and every teacher tries their absolute hardest to help us succeed, which makes our trip as a whole a lot more enjoyable. With my amazing friends and the excellent academic support that I have here, I know the remainder of EIE will continue to be the incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience that I had dreamed of long before I arrived here.
Emily Burke is a junior from Plymouth, MA. She is a member of Congregation Beth Jacob in Plymouth and goes to Plymouth North High School