A scraggly band of teenagers walked into Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport during a thunderstorm. The emotions on their faces were hard to read. It was as if they had aged fifty years, exhausted and numb to their surroundings. But as their four hours in the airport began to end, you could see the excitement of small children in their eyes. They were going to the Promised Land.
My name is Ellen Horowitz. I have just graduated from San Diego Jewish Academy, and have recently come back from my senior trip to Israel and Poland. What I have described above is the transition in my trip from my week in Polish Concentration Camps to my three and a half week long trip to Eretz Yisrael. Going on the Polish trip was a very difficult journey for me. Although there were some bright spots on the way, the visits to the concentration and death camps of Auschwitz, Majdanek, and other camps darkened our journey. Going back to America right after seeing those horrors, to a normal life, was unthinkable. I would not expect anyone to come back through a trip like that as a whole person without some time to heal.
Our trip’s healing destination was Israel, and our time was long, yet too short. After our layover in Paris, we flew to Israel and arrived at day-break. I will be honest, I was so tired I could barely open my eyes. My friends didn’t understand why I wasn’t dancing and singing along with them. But what I saw on the road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem cracking through was amazing. We had two hours to rest in our rooms, and then we went straight into a shuk. Now, for people who have never heard of one, a shuk is a marketplace. A very, very busy marketplace that was more than a bit overwhelming for someone who was running on an hour of sleep and had never been to Israel before. I devoured my first shawarma (which was amazing), tried a bunch of different Israeli candy, and smelled all the spices that I could in that time.
Walking around Jerusalem in the days following was spectacular for a history channel freak like me, the worn Jerusalem stone barely noticing our path. Going to the western wall on Shabbat will be something I will forever hold in my heart, as I danced with a hundred other women, all singing along to the Shabbat prayers. I fell in love with the modern Israeli city of Tel Aviv, its buildings and beaches made me feel like I was truly home for the first time. I shopped, ate, played in Tel Aviv’s welcome arms, and I plan on making a long return to that city soon. Our trip took us to every historical place we could go to in our time. We went to the Roman springs where small fish nibbled at our feet’s skin, to the Valley of Tears in the Golan heights where we could see bombs going off in Syria, to the salty Dead Sea.
To highlight one part of my trip is difficult, but there was one specific time where I felt truly holy. My grade did the sunrise hike up Masada, and spent the day talking about the history of the place. At the end of the tour, the leaders put us standing on the balcony off the side of the mountain, cramped together. Our leaders told us to yell “Am Yisrael Chai” all together, and nervously, we did so. The echo rebounding off the mountain was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Just over thirty teen voices yelled the holy quote, but thousands of voices came back to us. One by one, we each screamed our Hebrew name into the mountain side, and each of us received a few voices back. It was as if we were each casting ourselves into our past, and hearing the voices of those who have long preceded our being.
I miss the friendships and memories I made in Israel so much, but I can promise you readers this. Israel is a place to heal and mend your soul, and you will be hard pressed to find anything quite as amazing as our little home in the desert.