This article, A personal report from Israel, is a personal perspective of my recent time leading an FZY Tour and does not represent any political opinion about the current situation nor the official opinion of FZY or any other organisations.
In writing this “A Personal Report From Israel”, It is often difficult to put into perspective with your eyes wide open the intensity of the current conflict in Israel. Leading FZY Israel Summer Tour 2014 was one of the hardest but most rewarding adventures I have ever embarked on. Landing back in the UK, I suddenly felt a sense of release and freedom; yet this freedom was an aspect of conflict that had prompted the recent conflict in Gaza. Many people asked me, both Jewish and non Jewish, whether I was scared in Israel and whether I felt unsafe. The answer to many of these questions was no.
Two days before Tour was to begin, the conflict in Israel started and of course a sense of excitement coupled with fear started to cause heart palpitations. With some teenagers cancelling their trip to Israel, I started to wonder whether taking a group of forty sixteen year olds was the best idea. What was to come was a month of incredible, unforgettable experiences. The first week of tour had posed the majority of problems, with scheduling extremely disorientated and some areas of the country off limits to visit. This hit home hard. As a British Jew, who is also proud of my Israeli heritage, it was difficult for me to understand the implications of the war. Living in England poses many issues when it comes to media portrayal and for much of my life, I have been exposed to extremely fragmented news reports and distorted stories. Being in Israel put these issues to bed. Whilst in Israel, I felt safe despite having the experience of a siren in the north of Israel. It came to my attention that the lives Israeli’s lead were extremely different to those of the British and their perception of sirens frightened them more than they should have. Explaining the features of the Iron Dome to my group was challenging, however once understood, the prospect of another potential siren silenced their fear. The night of the siren was challenging to say the least, however it did not stop my enthusiasm to keep the programme going and to ensure that I was doing the best I could to keep them safe.
As a twenty one year old, working alongside two Israeli’s and one Brit was one of the best experiences of my life. For me, the most difficult aspect of tour in Israel was twofold. From the very beginning, many of the tours were losing their Israeli co’s who were reservists for the army. Within weeks, my Israeli was called to the army and losing her was extremely heartbreaking. With a few tears and heartfelt goodbyes, we continued the tour to the best of our ability and to our amazement she was luckily discharged only four days later. Having my Israeli return to us for the last weekend of tour was a blessing in disguise, however it did not take away the fact other families were without their loved ones. Both my Israeli’s experienced hardships as they lost dear friends in the conflict; many of whom they had trained or had trained with. Standing at Mount Herzel on our last weekend of tour was one of the most inspiring and patriotic moments of tour. I looked around and finally understood the hardship of both sides of the conflict. For many Israeli’s the army is their foundation of community and from being in Israel during a tough period, truly demonstrated their love for each other. Lastly, one stand out experience for me was during a week of volunteering with Magen David Adom; Israel’s ambulance service. During our free time, we decided as a group of fifteen to stand outside a supermarket and ask customers for their help and support to donate food and necessities to our boys in the army. Many were moved to tears, with one lady explaining she had two family members serving in the war.
So yes, many asked me when I arrived back home in London, would I go back to Israel during the conflict. The answer would indefinitely be yes. My experiences taught me to expand my knowledge and understanding of the conflict and to not judge a book by its cover. It is important as British Jews to fight for the freedom of those who suffer. It is important to support the state of Israel as much as possible, as without our help, Israel will surely suffer. To all those who participated in Israel tour programmes should be applauded for their bravery and now return with memorable and knowledgeable experiences that can never be replaced.