Rabbi Rachel Kaplan Marks participated on EIE in the Spring of 2003. A longtime camper and counselor at OSRUI, she is currently the Assistant Rabbi at Congregation Shalom in Milwaukee. Earlier this Fall, she traveled to Israel as a delegate to the World Zionist Congress with ARZA, and had the opportunity to visit EIE at Kibbutz Tzuba.
As our bus pulled up to Kibbutz Tzuba, earlier this fall, my classmates Aaron, Shira, and I began singing the Hebrew song, “Atah Totach” the song that had been our morning bus song when the three of us were students on NFTY’s EIE High School in Israel program in the spring semester of 2003. What a formative semester that was for me. Back when I was a student on EIE, I learned so much about myself, my Judaism, and my homeland. Though many years have passed since that semester, I can still remember how lucky I felt each morning to be waking up to a view of the Judean Hills. I can still remember the excitement of learning about the heroes of the Zionist Movement for the first time. I can still remember wrestling with questions of what it means to be a Jewish state and a democratic state. Now, I still marvel at the beauty of the Judean Hills, I still love reading about the visions that the pioneers of Zionism held for what should become of the Jewish State. I still wrestle with questions about what it means to be a Zionist today, to be a lover of and an advocate for a state that is both Jewish and democratic in its nature.
These questions are the very ones that existed at the heart of my desire to be one of the delegates to the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem with ARZA. Before the Congress itself began, the other youth delegates (delegates between the ages of 18 and 35) and I had the opportunity to share a Shabbat morning with the current EIE students, on beautiful Kibbutz Tzuba. So, yes, all of the wonderful memories came back to me as I was in this place that still feels so much like home. But this place is not just about my memories; it’s now home to another batch of students, who are discovering all kinds of things, at this very moment, about themselves, their Judaism, and their homeland. For sure one of the highlights for me of this visit to Kibbutz Tzuba was sharing a dialogue with the current EIE students wherein they wrestled with questions of what it means for Israel to be a righteous state. It is clear that the current students are going through own processes of evolution with each passing day. I am so grateful for the chance to reminisce about my time on EIE, and also to witness the newest generation of leaders being nurtured by our movement’s premiere teen educational experience.