I’m halfway up a mountain in Israel, the swelteringly dry mid-August desert heat already engulfing me in spite of the sun just now slipping into view. In front and behind me are some of my closest friends in the world, each of us adorned in the matching blue chultzot of Hashomer Hatzair. In approximately an hour my life will change forever. In the past few weeks, my life has already changed forever. I’m ready to begin the next chapter. But first I have to get to the top.
I’m here on this mountain because of my parents. They first met as members of the youth movement, Hashomer Hatzair, the same one in which I am now a member. As soon as I was old enough, they sent me to Camp Shomria, and well, the rest is history. As I climb higher, the destination looms above. It is here on the top of Masada, the ancient ruins of a community atop a mountain, that I will take an oath to officially become a leader in Hashomer Hatzair. As I climb the mountain, between the waves of pain, nausea, and heat, waves of introspection and nostalgia also flow through me as I can’t help but look back, remembering how this started, why I’m here.
The summer before my sixteenth birthday started like all of my summers for the past four years had—at camp. But in my final year of being a camper at Camp Shomria, I was as a part of the Yedid kvutza (group). Yedid is the equivalent of other camps’ Counselor-in-Training programs and consists of a vigorous three-week education program at camp, followed by a trip to a European country for a weeklong seminar with members from other countries in Hashomer Hatzair, before culminating with two weeks in Israel-- all of this designed to prepare us for Hadracha – to be youth leaders in our movement.
Our educational process at camp was an eye-opening one. The Jewish community tends to treat Israel as a haven of democracy, and my whole life I had considered Israel to be a ‘good’ country-- one that I was proud to call a Jewish state. However, as I learned more about Israel within this social justice framework my idealism was shattered. This was a lesson in critical-thinking I didn’t know I needed.
Our Yedid trip started in Bulgaria. We flew from Toronto, got a connecting flight in Germany, and after ten hours reached the capital city, Sofia. Prior to my trip, I imagined Bulgaria as a flat, grey, uninspiring landscape with sparse, and shabby buildings. Yet, I was wrong. Sofia is brimming with beautiful old architecture, and when we went to a resort two hours from Sofia, I found that the Bulgarian countryside resembled an idyllic painting-- lined with mountains and a beautiful blue-cloud sky. This baseless preconceived notion I held was quickly proven false, and it set the tone for the rest of my trip. In Bulgaria, we entered an intense four-day seminar designed to teach us all about how to be leaders and educators. My most important learning moment, however was unstructured and spontaneous: Oren, my madrich (counselor) and long-time mentor, sat the boys down one night to talk about toxic masculinity, the objectification of women, consent, and other topics that many boys don’t get the opportunity to openly discuss. Within the whirlwind of the rest of the trip, this was a small event, but similar to my Israel epiphany, it opened my eyes and left an unmistakably deep impression on me.
Israel was by far the most educational portion of Yedid. We visited a Bedouin village which was slated to be torn down by the Israeli government and heard from their leaders first-hand about the injustice. We toured the massive wall dividing the Jewish section and Palestinian sections of Jerusalem, listened to an asylum seeker, and ate dinner with the obscure and intriguing Druze people. Through the stories of marginalized peoples and their stories, I gained invaluable insight and knowledge into the lives of people and their differing experiences. By far, the most impactful thing I saw in Israel was Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Museum. There are no words to describe the indelible gut wrench of seeing so clearly what was done to my people. The images and videos are ingrained in my mind, and I will never forget. It reminded me of why Israel is necessary, why it even exists. This added to my confusion even more, my brain melting from the weight of balancing both the evidently clear need for a safe Jewish haven, with the detrimental effects on the Palestinian population.
On Masada, the neverending climb comes to an end. Once we are all atop the mountain we gather into a small semi-circle. I stand beside my closest friends with stinging feet, aching legs, a confused heart, and a nostalgic mind. We are called upon to take an oath pledging to live a life true to the values of Hashomer Hatzair, and while I step forward to say my oath, I really have no idea of what it signifies.
It is now two years later, and I can see that I was taking a step forward not only as a leader but as a person. My first proverbial journey concluded, yet a new one began. The skills and growth that I gleaned on this Yedid trip prepared me for real life. It prepared me for the messy world we live in; a world filled with partisanship, propaganda, and bigotry where more than ever, the ability to think critically is paramount. And that is what I gained. Through experience and connection, I was able to learn how to think for myself. I can’t help but see the parallels of that trip and my life today.
As a first-year university student, I recognize that where I once stepped into hadracha, I now step into adulthood, in the disheveled, and complex post-COVID world. I know that as much as I have matured and grown over these past years, there is no mistaking the room left to continue. I hope to grow into a leader in this world, standing up for marginalized people, and leaving an impact. After going halfway around the world, seeing people, places, and things I will never forget, I am ready to repair myself and repair the world.