During a conference call with Rabbi Rick Jacobs earlier this week, he shared a photo that was taken while he was visiting Israel as part of a delegation to show solidarity with Israel during the recent turmoil with Gaza. The picture showed Rabbi Jacobs with our current NFTY-EIE students.  Rabbi Jacobs’ visit was particularly meaningful to the students because of the intensity of their experience being in Israel during the Gaza Crisis.

Rabbi Jacobs went out to Kibbutz Tzuba to take part in Shabbat morning T’filah led by the students. He delivered a pertinent and very meaningful Dvar Torah on Vayeitzei. Through Rabbi Jacob’s Dvar Torah, the students had a chance to retell their experiences during the crisis, particularly the siren sounding at Tzuba. They spoke of their resilience and their support systems at home. Rabbi Jacobs also pointed out how much they learned about themselves and the strength of the community they have built.  (Video above)

Recently, one of our Fall 2012 parents, Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, was asked by her congregation to share a few thoughts on NFTY-EIE and having her son in Israel during this crisis. She also saw the strength and personal growth that her son was experiencing during this time. This is what she had to say…

Nathaniel has been in Israel since late August where he’s participating in the NFTY-EIE High School program. During that time he has lived on a kibbutz… hiked the width of Israel from sea to sea (the Galilee to Mediterranean)… climbed Masada… met with Rabbis and Imams and students and scholars who have come to Israel from all over the world… explored Jerusalem… traveled to Poland for an intensive Holocaust remembrance… completed a week of basic training in the IDF… all while studying Hebrew, Jewish History, and, of course, taking all of the regular high school classes (and SAT prep!). It has been a truly amazing and life-changing experience.

We had the opportunity to visit Nathaniel in October and saw firsthand all the wonder and intensity of what he’s experiencing and learning. Most recently, when the Israeli response to Hamas attacks began to escalate, we were very concerned — especially when Hamas rocket fire reached the West Bank, not terribly far from the kibbutz where NFTY EIE is housed. But not only has the NFTY Program remained in constant contact and allayed our fears, we’ve also seen in our son his own willingness to step up — in words and deeds — to stand by and for Israel. I have told my family and friends who’ve worried about him: “Just talk to him… read his Facebook page. You’ll learn a whole lot more by engaging with him than you’ll get from much of what’s being reported in the media.” He’s strong minded and strong willed, and exactly where he wants to be.

There are 5 weeks left of the program — it ends on New Years Eve — and just today Nathaniel posted a Facebook status that laments, “Where did the time go?”

This much is for certain: NFTY EIE didn’t just keep my son and his classmates safe. Rather, NFTY made sure that students were taught…and inspired… and nurtured… and challenged to think and live just as an Israeli teenager does. It is an experience — and a gift — he’ll carry with him forever.

(Originally posted on the Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel Blog.)

 The Strength of our Students