Erika L., a Spring 2016 participant, is a sophomore from Morristown, NJ. She belongs to Temple B’nai Or, is a participant in NFTY-GER and is a camper at Camp Harlam. In her blog post, she writes about her recent climb last month up Masada, the challenges she faced, and the rewards she earned.
Climbing the steep, seemingly never-ending steps up the snake trail to Masada, was one of the hardest, but most rewarding and eye-opening experiences so far during my time here. Masada became a symbol of resilience for me, my faith in my own ability, and the strength of my Jewish community here at EIE. I am almost 16 years old and am learning what my role must be to transmit the legacy of our people, share my understanding of challenges faced and overcome in our history, and the gifts of our community. Our challenges are multi-faceted and require understanding, appreciation, determination, and perseverance- all necessary components which with the right amount of support and encouragement lead to growth and my potential to thrive.
Our people have found strength in respect for lessons learned from knowing our history. My confidence in my ability to meet and overcome challenges was just one reward from hiking this steep trail in darkness. As a teen, I value my sleep, and needing to wake up in the middle of the night was a tremendous physical challenge. The trail was also very steep and not being a hiker, I came outfitted with the bare necessities (my new-for-Israel hiking boots), but with limited hiking experience. Here’s where community really mattered. Each of us needed to make it to the top to meet the rising sun, meaning we had to get to the summit in a reasonable amount of time in order to appreciate the rewards of physical endurance. I was certainly excited and wanted to meet the challenge. There were moments on my ascent that I felt extremely tired and through the support and encouragement of our Madrichim and peers…I made it! Once at the summit, I felt incredibly moved by the awe-inspiring sight of the desert, the rising sun, the sparkle and excitement in all of our eyes, and joy to have arrived in this spot. This dawn had all of us together, greeting a new day, doing so with increased confidence and resolve to bring this all forward into the future.
I heard that EIE was going to be life changing and I chose to experience Israel through EIE. In learning about Masada, there have been changes in our perception of what this fortress represents. It used to represent the victory of our spirit, to refuse to abandon our Jewish way of life- it was here that our ancestors made a suicide pact. Their perception of freedom was suicide, rather than being conquered by the Romans. Today, I believe Judaism is a tradition of life, not death, and that we have more to live for than to die for. Our collective memory and history teach us to stand up and speak up, and where necessary, fight back. Though this may be true, I admire the leadership, respect, and confidence- something we are still challenged by in an effort to draw from to defend our people, our way of life, and our home, Israel. I am thankful and count my blessings for the lessons of leadership, self-respect, increased confidence, and self-defense skills my climb up Masada and EIE continue to give me.
You can read more about Erika’s experiences at her blog, Erika Leaves America.