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A Life-Changing Journey Through Israel With My Merrin Teen Fellows

By Rachel Appell

I recently had the opportunity to visit Israel as a member of Cohort XII of the Merrin Teen Professional Fellowship. Throughout our 10-day journey, which took 10 other Fellows and me to sites across the country, we learned so much, asked lots of questions, and contemplated challenging issues—made all the more so by the events of October 7 and the ongoing war. What follows is an abbreviated, lightly edited version of some of my thoughts and reflections throughout our travels.

Day 2: On the way to our hotel, we stopped at the Mt. Avnon Lookout. It is an incredible feeling to exist in a place that feels so expansive. We are so small in the grand scheme of life and yet we survive. I believe that Moses and his followers felt that way during their time in the desert and we continue to feel it today, which is why the Jewish people are still here, surviving.

Day 3: Yesterday I pondered the fact that humans are so small. Today I saw how big we are and how we can turn horrors and tragedies into something wonderful. We walked the grounds of the Nova Festival. Hundreds of men and women who were just starting their lives were brutally attacked and murdered because they chose to attend a music festival. I walked where these people lost their lives, looking up at the beautiful display that their friends, families, and fellow Israelis made in their honor. Each of the fallen has their photograph and name on a memorial and has had a tree planted in their memory. There is now new life in a place where lives were destroyed.

Rachel Appell is the after school, youth, and teen program coordinator at JCC Rockland in West Nyack, N.Y. She kept this unabridged travel journal throughout her time in Israel.

Learn more about the Merrin Teen Professional Fellowship and other JCC Talent cohort offerings for JCC professionals and lay leaders.

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