Neta Ben-Arie visited her daughter Dani as part of the Spring 2016 Parents’ Pilgrimage. Today, she writes a reflection on her visit.
Recently, I returned from a wonderful visit to Israel to see my daughter, Dani, take part in the Parents’ Pilgrimage, and visit my immediate family. I was overwhelmed by the experience. As soon as I got to Tzuba I realized what a gift we were able to give Dani. From the moment we arrived, we were greeted warmly by the faculty and oriented to the place and program. Tzuba, nestled in the Judea Mountains, is as beautiful and inspiring a location as one can imagine. The kids walk around the Kibbutz freely and confidently engaging with each other, their studies, and their overall experience.
On my first full day with EIE, we hopped on a bus to the village of Ein Rafa for a visit to a mosque. The tour was led by Yasmin, a British citizen who converted to Islam. Poignant questions were asked, with some answered directly while others with great ambiguity. Nonetheless, the mere interaction with Israeli Muslims in their own village was a worthwhile and unique experience. After we exited the mosque, we were warmly greeted and hosted by Yasmin at her own house where we continued our discussion. A wonderful lunch followed in the Arab village of Abu Gosh. Afterwards, the teens returned to Tzuba so that they could attend their general studies classes while the parents went on to a tour of the Old City
The next day, perhaps my favorite, was attending classes with Dani. I was impressed with how engaged the teens are in the academic process and with how bright and capable they are. Dani’s teachers were without exception, kind, engaged, and interesting. I told Dani that I wish I could attend classes with her every day. (I think that she’d rather I didn’t :)) The way that EIE weaves the classroom experience with the tiyulim is terrific, so that a lecture on Islam is followed by a tour of what they learn. The teens actively take notes during those trips and are expected to master the information.
Perhaps the most beautiful thing about this particular EIE group is how they engage with one other. The friendships that are being forged, the humor the kids share, and their true connection to one another is enviable. Dani and I left for the weekend to visit our family. On one of the days we went to the beach. By sheer coincidence we ran into Tamar, her friend from the program. The two hugged and seemed to truly have missed one another (they saw each other 36 hours earlier.)
As Israeli parents, sending Dani, who was born in the US, to Israel was an exciting prospect. We were thrilled that she wanted to engage in our people’s history and experience Israel more thoroughly than was afforded to her in the past. We thought that she would have a good experience at EIE but my experience, during the pilgrimage, exceeded my expectations on every level. This group of teens is fortunate to experience Israel in such a meaningful and thorough way. Israel, in turn, is fortunate to host such a capable, thoughtful and engaged group. I believe that these teens will serve as great ambassadors for Israel wherever they go.
Finally, a story that beautifully symbolizes the joy of being in Israel. One of Dani’s madrichim (counselors) is Yotam. I was impressed by how engaged he was with the teens, how well he knew them, and how much he cared for and liked them. After spending a good part of the day chatting with him, we both realized, that his father, Assi, was my madrich in my youth movement in Israel when I was a child. The parallel in Dani’s and my own life was astonishing: 35 years ago, Yotam’s father who is 6 years older than I am, was my counselor, and now, Yotam who is 6 years older than Dani is her counselor. I got to talk to Assi over the phone, and in an Israeli fashion, was immediately invited over for a Shabbat dinner. What are the chances?