Returning to Israel after 11 years was incredibly exciting. The last time I went to Israel had been in college on my Birthright Israel trip, and I was dreaming of a falafel sandwich from the Old City of Jerusalem. I left that trip with a sense of pride for Israel and feeling grateful to have experienced it with my peers, a unique way to visit a country with so much meaning to my heritage.
I knew that attending the JUF Young Leadership Division Mission last summer would provide a similar sense of enjoyment, but I could not have predicted how connected I would feel to those I traveled with, that I would come home with a new community to be part of.
The Chicago group bonded instantly. After our pre-departure meeting, I remember feeling excited by the new faces in the room and curious as to how we would all connect, some of us going to Israel for the first time and other for the tenth. Throughout the trip, we were eager to learn about how JUF impacts the many vulnerable populations. Each of us seemed to connect personally to one JUF-supported organization or another, but we celebrated our unique adventure together.
Other groups from different cities were on the mission representing their Federations, but there was something special about our group and how we looked out for one another.
On the Friday night of the trip when we celebrated Shabbat, we came back to the hotel for dinner after a beautiful Shabbat service full of singing and reflecting on the week. As we arrived in the room, we quickly realized that the table set up did not all our whole group to sit together. We looked at one another, unsure of how to proceed. No one wanted anyone to be separated from the group -- we all truly wanted to be together. So everyone just started adding chairs and table settings so we could squish around the table and enjoyed that moment together.
The dinner conversation was special too, turning from more than just casual conversations to deep reflections on our experiences and what we hoped to bring back with us to Chicago. The overwhelming consensus was that everyone felt grateful to have created this new network of friends, something we had not anticipated. We agreed that it would be our goal to keep the feeling alive by getting together regularly back at home.
And we've done just that. It amazes me how our group continually wants to get together, to catch up on each other's lives and reminisce about our collective adventure. We have created community among us, cheering each other on in our respective daily endeavors and celebrating birthdays and holidays together. It has been a wonderful reminder that being Jewish is about being a part of a community in ways both big and small, and I am grateful to this group for being a part of my Jewish community.
Celebrate Israel with YLD tomorrow night, Thursday, April 19, at Blue and White Bar Night from 7 to 10 p.m. at Point & Feather. Register at juf.org/blueandwhite.
Abby Berman is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) who works as a school social worker in Oak Park. She is passionate about the work she does to support kids and teens, as well as their families. Abby visited Israel for the third time when going with the YLD Mission, however it was her first time going with JUF.