Monday, July 13, 2020 -
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IST 2014 was not your typical summer in Israel

Alana Kaufman

By Alana Kaufman with IJN Staff


ISRAEL Study Tour 2014 started out just like the 41 previous ISTs — 71 excited rising high school seniors embarking on an eye-opening, inspirational adventure.

However, as soon as they arrived in Israel in mid-June, they realized that this year’s trip would be unlike those in previous years.

The Colorado teens’ arrival in Israel was punctuated by the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenage boys by Hamas.

The teens were ultimately found murdered, while Israel was pelted by Hamas rockets from Gaza.

Israel responded to the rocket fire from the air and then launched a ground invasion into Gaza — Operation Protective Edge — to wipe out the sources of the rockets and to destroy the elaborate network of terror tunnels that it discovered in Gaza reaching all the way into Israel.

The IST itinerary was adjusted to keep its participants as far away from the rocket fire as possible.

These modifications did not diminish the impact of the IST experience. It perhaps caused the students to adopt a more mature and deeper appreciation for Israel and the realities faced by its citizens every day.

By the time IST returned to Denver, Israel was engaged in all-out war with Hamas.

The Denver Jewish community rallied behind Israel with a series of public events.

Here is the text of the speech delivered by IST participant Alana Kaufman at a community Israel solidarity rally, July 14, at Temple Emanuel.

“‘AND the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof thro’ the night that our flag was still there.’

“On Tuesday night, July 8, at 9:45 p.m., four days after marking the 238th anniversary of America’s independence, our Israel Study Tour — IST, comprised of 71 rising Colorado high school seniors and seven staff members — attended a play at Nalaga’at Theatre, located in the Jaffa port in Tel Aviv.

“Eleven deaf-blind actors took us on a magical tour in the districts of their inner world; the world of darkness, silence and . . . bread. As the process of breadmaking unfolds on stage — the dough is being kneaded, raised and baked — a unique encounter occurs between actors and audience. Together they re-enact vivid or distant memories, recall forgotten dreams and joyful moments and touch the spark of creation present in every one of us.

“The actors take the spectators into those magical moments between reality and fantasy and always eventually return to the basic meaning of bread as a symbol of our longing for a home.

“As the play came to an end a loud voice came over the intercom announcing a nearby missile attack. The warning siren could not be heard as the theater doubles as a bomb shelter. Instructions were given to duck and cover our heads. We diligently followed the orders.

“As we took cover, our Israeli brothers sat amused in their seats, as this was routine for them. After a minute or so we slowly came up from our perceived protective positions.

“An Israeli woman sitting behind us began singing a Jewish melody. Our group quickly joined in and the panic that had startled most of us only moments before faded away.

“As we exited the theater, we watched the night sky. In the far distance many of us witnessed the ‘rockets’ red glare,’ but these were not the festive fireworks we are accustomed to in America. This was just one of the hundreds of rockets launched from Gaza at us and other innocent civilian men, women and children throughout Israel.

“We watched as the incoming missile was intercepted by the Iron Dome and thankfully saw the ‘bombs bursting in air.’

“My friends and I returned from Israel some 27 hours ago. That is life in Israel today. That is life in Israel every day.

“Five weeks ago, we departed Denver for Cracow and Warsaw, Poland. In four days we toured the death camps of the Holocaust and learned of the depths of world persecution on the Jewish people, on our people.

“During this time I began to connect to my Judaism in ways I had never imagined and it made me proud to be Jewish.

“The first month of our trip flew by with jam-packed days of fun activities, hiking and bonding as a group. During this time my connection to the Land of Israel kept growing. I was making new friends and creating new bonds with Israel.

“As the final week of IST approached we knew our journey was coming to an end and we were all excited to complete our trip with a few days in Tel Aviv followed by a tour of the Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, with the intent to tie our trip together and bring it full circle from Poland and then conclude with our final Shabbat in Jerusalem at the Kotel.

“Instead our trip ended up taking a detour.

“The events that had started prior to our arrival in Israel with the kidnapping of three Israeli boys escalated when their murdered bodies were found 18 days later.

“The number of bombs launched by Hamas into Israel escalated.

“For our safety our schedule was quickly changed to take us north, far north to Peqiin, a city close to the Lebanese border, where it was thought that bombs would be more distant and safety ensured.

“We were all a bit disappointed, We felt almost cheated of missing our last week of fun-filled activities and spiritual connections, not to mention last minute shopping.

“However, the experiences we went through that last week brought our group closer then ever.

“Based on conversations with loved ones we felt that it was difficult for others to relate to our emotions because what we were going through and what people in the States were seeing were very different. Although some of us were frightened by the news, we always felt safe, especially with the support from the Jewish community in Israel and in Denver.

“The journey of IST 2014 was unlike anything any of us had ever imagined. We truly got to experience firsthand the true way of life in Israel. While the media portrayed our trip as a group fleeing from rockets stuck in the middle of another Middle East conflict, we were actually discovering ourselves and learning about one another.

“We got to see a side to Israel many don’t know or understand.

“As young, impressionable teen-agers our focus was on socializing and experiencing the land our people call home.

“We left Denver as easy go lucky teens and returned yesterday as more mature, worldly and diligent individuals. I along with my fellow ISTers have grown physically, emotionally and spiritually in ways that are unexplainable.

“Thanks to CAJE, IST 2014 was a once in a lifetime opportunity that connected us to Israel, a place where we, even in times of conflict, felt safe and at home.”

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