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Our Journey in Israel - from Solemn Remembrance to Joyful Celebration

Posted on 05/05/2014 @ 08:13 PM

During the past two days, the BBYO National Teen Delegation has gained a real understanding of Israel's culture, history and challenges.

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Yesterday our day began with a tour of the Atlit Detainee and Detention Camp, established by the British Mandate for Palestine in the 1930s. The Atlit "Illegal" Immigrant Detention Camp tells the story of the struggle of Jews fleeing Europe (Ma'apilim) from Nazi persecution and death, trying to reach British-controlled Palestine, only to be incarcerated in camps similar in appearance to the Nazi camps of Europe. In October 1945, a daring military operation freed the 208 detainees. On the site, the teens toured a recently purchased ship, similar in size and appearance to those used to transport immigrants to Israel, the notorious disinfection facility, a model of the original camp, restored barracks, a computerized information database and more.

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Later in the day, we visited the Beit Ambusa Ethiopian House in Ramleh where we learned about the Ethiopians and their lives here in Israel. They also taught the teens a dance and fed us a traditional snack consisting of red beans and fava beans.

Last night we joined Israelis in observing Yom Hazikaron, Israel's National Day of Remembrance for those who have fallen in battle or to terrorism. We attended a solemn program at the Latrun army base and heard about the lives of five young adults who had died. The teens were visibly moved by the program, which also included musical interludes, and what Israelis have endured. Everyone stood in total silence as the two minute memorial siren rang throughout the country.

"Seeing the ceremony at Latrun was very moving and made me realize the reality of what people our age are doing right here in Israel," Lydia Safir said.

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"The Yom Hazikaron ceremony at Latrun was an amazing experience to see how Israel honors the fallen soldiers and their lives and their commitment to serving our homeland," Tracey Katz added.

Today, we began our tour of the Old City and the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem, as well as a cave experience. At 11:00AM, we stood when the two-minute memorial siren rang, again, watching traffic come to a standstill and drivers get out of their cars to standing in respect along with pedestrians. The highlight of the day was visiting the Western Wall, conducting a joint service and then proceeding to the separated men/women praying areas.

The teens found this experience extremely moving.

"As I touched the Western Wall, I felt such a powerful connection to Judaism that I have been looking for throughout the time," Melissa Mahon said.

Rachel Denenberg added, "It was powerful to stand and pray for all fallen soldiers with hundreds of other people in front of the Western Wall."

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"Going to the Western Wall gave me an unexpected and overwhelming feeling of freedom, power and faith," Olivia Reznik reflected.

As the day turned into night, we celebrated Israel's Independence Day, Yom Ha'atzmaut. housands were in the street cheering and dancing in a mardi-gras like atmosphere.

"I have never seen such pride in a country before," Sydney Gass said. "Israel's birthday made me realize how home I truly am."

"Yom Ha'atzmaut on Ben Yehudah Street was like nothing I have seen before," Alyssa Katz said. "It was a celebration of Jewish and Israeli pride."

Jamie Newman added, "Dancing and celebrating Yom Ha'atzmaut in Jerusalem made me so proud to call Israel my home."

"The past two days served as a microcosm for the entire trip," Josh Freeman said. "Yesterday at the Yom Hazikaron ceremony, we experienced a sadness like no other, as the day serves as Israel's most somber day; and then today, we celebrated Israel's freedom in the most amazing way possible on Ben Yehudah Street. The past two days have shown me how important it is to have Israel as my homeland."

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"These past 24 hours in Jerusalem have been a roller coaster of emotions," Jeff Kahn said. "From experiencing an incredibly moving ceremony for fallen IDF soldiers to moving into celebrating the beginning of Yom Ha'atzmaut on Ben Yehudah Street. It shows the power of the Jewish and Israeli people and how we can move from a time of deep sadness into finding a way to celebrate our peoplehood."

The teens are experiencing so much and repeatedly share their feelings and utter joy at being here in Israel.

"This has been the best experience of my life and the friends I have made are some of the greatest people I have ever met," Hannah Dalsheim said. "I've never felt so grateful for being somewhere in my life."

"I found my faith in God today," Josh Zack added.

Andrea Sklar and Ariana Rothman commented, "The Kehillah created on the March of the Living is one that cannot be replicated anywhere else."

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"Nothing in the world beats Israel," Michael Vivier stated. "From walking in the streets of the Old City, to attending a memorial service on Yom Hazikaron, to dancing the night away on Ben Yehudah Street, the sheer pride that each Jew and Israeli feels in the homeland is incredible."

Tomorrow, we visit Mount Herzel to learn about the special people in our history who are buried there, along with all the other fallen soldiers and dignitaries. And then, we join all the March of the Living delegations from around the world in celebration and another march from the center square of Jerusalem to the Western Wall. There will be music and dancing and guest speakers. The day will culminate with a mega event at Latrun celebrating everyone who participated in the March of the Living - songs, dancing, presentations and unbelievable fireworks!!!

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