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What Does Israel Mean to Me?

Posted by Brian Schreiber on May 22, 2018

I vividly remember the endless bus trip from Jerusalem to Kibbutz Hazorea in 1985.  I didn’t know a soul, spoke fewer than a dozen Hebrew words, and had never traveled overseas. But I had a longing to experience Israel, to learn the language and connect to people on their terms – not mine.

The journey took me from the kibbutz to community service work in Ashkelon to running a day camp outside Tel Aviv. I learned to manage in a tiny apartment with few amenities, aerograms, monthly 10 minute phone calls to the U.S., a municipal bus pass, and a weekly $25 stipend.

I met Jews from Mexico, Brazil, France, Holland, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Yemen and Ethiopia.  I accompanied 30 school children twice a week on city buses to the Israel Tennis Center by myself. I helped turn an abandoned bomb shelter into a teen activity center in a neighborhood where delinquency surpassed high school matriculation.

I filled Shabbats with more dinner invitations than I could ever accept and feasted on kubbeh, injera and couscous.  I became one of the “family” at a Yemenite henna celebration.  I limped through a misdiagnosed broken foot, a bout of colitis, and an apartment robbery.  I discovered resilience, passion, and leadership in ways I never could have experienced in the States.

Since that magical year, 26 trips back to Israel have been filled with new relationships, experiences and opportunities.   For me, Israel is “personal,” with extended family, community, and an intrinsic sense of belonging.

Brian Schreiber is JCC President and CEO. This was published in The Jewish Chronicle as part of the article, Reflections on Israel at 70.

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