Mia Finestone
Hadassah 2023 Leaders of Tomorrow Scholarship Winner

My Magical Summer in Israel with Young Judaea

Photo Caption: Claire Eisenstadt, Marissa Bishop, and Mia Finestone. Photo courtesy of the author.
Photo Caption: Claire Eisenstadt, Marissa Bishop, and Mia Finestone. Photo courtesy of the author.
Photo Caption: Maya Karp, Shira Cohen, Dana Lewy, Mia Finestone, Raya Sulman, Evelyn Aizenstein, and Else Weinstein. Photo courtesy of the author.
Photo courtesy of the author.

I never could have imagined a summer as magical as the one I had on the 2023 Young Judaea Gesher Israel program.

I learned more than I ever thought was possible. I learned how to become best friends with someone in three weeks, how to bond with my madrichim (counselors) like friends, how to share living spaces, how to connect to my Judaism and to Israel and, most importantly, how to sleep on a moving bus.

I will never forget Young Judaea Gesher. It is an experience that still has me reeling even though I am home – reeling not only because of the incredible experience but also because of the horrible war that now overwhelms those memories.

The Young Judaea Gesher program gave me the chance to connect with people who were different from me. It helped me to understand that, even though we may not all think the same, we all share a love of Israel and of our Judaism. Gesher also taught me about Israeli culture.

Though I had spent time in Israel, this opportunity to interact with Israelis on the street every day and to live with those who accompanied us on our trip was a completely new experience for me. The tzofim (scouts) and madrichim, for example, made it all so much more authentic. There is nothing quite like hearing about an issue from people who live it every day. Having these young Israelis share their thoughts and opinions with us was extremely impactful.

The Israeli peers we met helped me gain a new perspective on the conflicts going on within Israel. They never shied away from discussing issues that Americans might deem “difficult” or “controversial.” They shared their genuine feelings, no matter how hard it may have been for us to hear.

Now in the midst of this terrible war, I am more grateful than ever for my connection to Israel, both the place and its people. When I first heard about what was going on, late at night on October 6, US time, it was crazy to realize that I had been in Israel just a couple of months earlier. The moshav that we had visited on the border of Gaza, Nativ Ha’asara, lost 15 of its members on that first day alone – and just months before that day, I had been given a tour of the community and shown the border wall.

As a 17-year-old living in the Bay Area of California, I have felt helpless since the war began, not sure what I can do to make a difference in this dire situation. I am lucky to be a part of strong Jewish and Zionist community, both through my high school, the Jewish Community High School of the Bay, and through Young Judaea. Both of these communities have provided me with endless support and the resources to ensure I am educated about Judaism and Israel and know how to approach a conversation about the Middle East conflict. Being so far away from the place I love has not been easy, but knowing the resiliency of Israel and the love that Zionists around the world have for Israel is heart-warming.

The power of Gesher was amplified for me by the fact that I was on the trip because I was a 2023 recipient of Hadassah’s Leaders of Tomorrow Award. The knowledge that Hadassah was helping me to learn and to grow as a Jew and a Zionist made me even more proud and grateful that I was in Israel with Gesher.

Now my Gesher journey is behind me. I look at my pictures and cherish my memories of a better time in Israel. I wish I could relive the magic of the summer — a summer of friendships, of trying new things and of learning.

I wish for an end to the war.

About the Author
Mia Finestone, a Hadassah 2023 Leaders of Tomorrow Scholarship winner, is currently a senior at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay. She has been involved with Young Judaea since the age of nine. In fact, her parents first met each other through Young Judaea. She attended CYJ Midwest, Tel Yehudah, Gesher, and currently is the City and Camp Coordinator the Midwest Mazkirut (Teen Regional Board). She is extremely passionate and proud of her Judaism and Zionism. Mia loves learning languages and is very involved with various sports activities. Her extracurricular activities include serving as an advisor for the TeenTalk App, which provides a free, safe space for teens to request support from trained peers and learn from others with similar experiences.
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