Dor L’Dor: Recharging My Jewish Identity

  • Elijah, far right, with his DLD '14 peers

    Elijah, far right, with his DLD ’14 peers

    “What I didn’t expect it to do was to let me recharge my Jewish batteries as well as influence my Jewish identity.”

    The summer was unusual: this Dor L’Dor Leadership Program cohort experienced Israel during a time of both peace and war. Elijah Elmore, an eight-season Cohen Camps camper, was deeply moved by the experience, and shared his thoughts on his Jewish experience with his synagogue, Temple Emanuel of Newton, MA. In the speech, which is shared as a guest blog post, Elijah talks about what it felt like to be in Israel during a conflict, how the teens became the “educators” — a calming supportive voice for the parents, and why “this summer is only the beginning of a long term relationship with Israel and that I will be able to go back and finish what I started.”

    Shabbat Shalom,

    Like so many of my friends, I spent this past summer in Israel. As you would expect, the trip gave me new experiences and let me meet many new people. What I didn’t expect it to do was to let me recharge my Jewish batteries as well as influence my Jewish identity. I now understand that as a Jewish teen I am and will be a large part in the future of Israel. It is not only something I WANT to do but this summer made me realize that it is my duty to help keep Israel and Judaism alive by living a Jewish life and continuing to visit Israel.

    Growing up going to the Rashi school, Camp Tel Noar (a Cohen Camp) and Prozdor, I felt I had a very good sense of my Jewish identity. I learned Hebrew, had my bar mitzvah and always knew that the Jewish holidays were a time to be with family and friends. For me Israel was the next step in my camp journey, getting to spend the summer in Israel with my camp friends. In many ways that’s what my summer was. We landed and headed straight to Jerusalem. We walked the Old City, snapping pictures of the beige stones every way we looked. We spent our first Shabbat at the Kotel singing and dancing, with me trying to navigate my way through bodies dressed in black robes and tall hats. This was a taste of my new-found connection to Israel. Everything felt both familiar and new. We shopped and made new friends along the way.

    By the second week, however I felt truly connected to Israel, just as the Crisis in Gaza started. We were walking along a boardwalk in Tel Aviv, anxious for McDonalds – something familiar in food – and were told by our counselors that we had to leave immediately due to possible rocket fire that was headed toward Tel Aviv. This was the first eye-opening experience. So many questions rushed to my head. Why? Who? When?

    From that day on the trip was more special to everyone. We continued our journey in normal fashion. We were already headed north to Tsfat and the Golan Heights, so our schedule didn’t change much. Yet now we all followed the IDF and Haaretz and Prime Minister Netanyahu on Twitter, and our daily bus conversations usually resulted in talks about ways to resolve the conflict with Gaza or the minute-to-minute update on what was happening.

    Our conversations with our parents changed too. Instead of “what did you do today?” Or “did you eat enough?” The questions began to revolve around: “Do you feel safe?” We suddenly were in the position of explaining the situation ­to our parents back home. We were seeing Israel with fresh eyes – not those of Americans watching the American media. We were traveling with and among Israelis who we began to understand lived this way all the time. In this way, the conflict brought us closer to Israel than we ever had, or ever would have been. Our program included Israeli teens as part of our program and they talked to us like it was the safest place to be! We learned to talk about life in Israel with a new appreciation of what LIFE is like, not just what is like to be a tourist.

    But, at the end of the day I was a tourist. I hiked, met artists, made chocolate, visited holy and historic sites, and swam and floated in the waters of Israel. One of my most favorite experiences was the time we spent in the Negev. Reflecting on that time when we were traveling home I wrote: “It was amazing how such a simple place could bring so many realizations and spirituality to one person. I felt so connected to my mind and body that night in the Negev. It was amazing how sand, stars, darkness and pure quiet could give so much to one single person. I felt like I had all the answers – maybe I did and maybe I didn’t – but that’s what Israel is all about isn’t it? The questions that you stumble upon, the answers you reach for, the spirituality of the holy land that goes with the simple fact that you are the same as so many people in one place fighting for one goal with one common belief.”

    My trip ended five days early. We were not going to be able to return to Jerusalem and the decision was made to have us come home and return to camp early. Leaving was sad – I was going to miss my new friends who go to one of the other Cohen Camps, and the independence that I had living on my own, away from my parents. What ending the trip early left me with was a better sense of how much it will mean to go back to Israel again.

    I know that this summer is only the beginning of a long term relationship with Israel and that I will be able to go back and finish what I started.

    Elijah Elmore is a junior at Brookline High School. He is an avid member of the varsity soccer team and also enjoys singing in his school’s a capella group. He attended Camp Tel Noar (a Cohen Camp) for eight years, starting at age seven.

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