A couple of weeks ago, dozens of students from schools across the United States boarded a plane for Israel. For many readers this might not seem remarkable. However, for many of us with no or little connection to Jews, Judaism or Israel, it was the culmination of a journey that we began many years ago.
From the age of 5, as we were learning and progressing in our own language, English, and studying a curriculum that mirrors thousands of others across the country, we were also learning Hebrew, and studying the history and culture of Israel.
We didn’t study Hebrew to learn the Bible; we learned modern living Hebrew from an Israeli teacher, who taught as the correct way to pronounce words (and even slang).
When we entered Ben-Gurion International Airport, the foreign texts on the walls everywhere were easily decipherable, and we were able to have a conversation with the people at passport control — and even buy ourselves a drink — before we got on the bus for an unforgettable journey.
Spending years studying a distant land suddenly became very real as we walked its land, traversed its streets and gazed at its mountains and valleys. The two-dimensional maps we have displayed in our classrooms, the videos we regularly watched and the Israelis who told us tales from their country did not match suddenly seeing Israel in all its glory.
It was amazing to see all of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites, and each of us from different religions and cultures learned about the religion of those we sit next to every day in school from the places where they were founded.
We picked olives, stayed in a Bedouin tent, visited the vibrant markets and ate Sabbath meals with Jewish families.
However, we didn’t just visit all the tourist sites, we saw the real Israel.
We met fellow students from the Ethiopian, Druze, and Bedouin communities, among others. We saw the technological miracle that is Israel and we met famous people, like Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai.
We learned about how, like us, people from all different backgrounds and cultures can get along, live, work and play together.
At Hebrew Public, we are often taught that one of the primary goals of our schools is to teach us how to be global citizens. We believe that to be truly global citizens, you have to learn and respect those different from you. You have to listen and be open to new things.
We learned in Israel that is how people live. We were definitely shocked by the diversity and difference in Israel, but we were even more pleasantly surprised by how everybody pulls together in such a small country.
We learned so much in such a small space in time but the memories and the lessons will last a lifetime.
Unfortunately, as there are no state-funded high schools where you learn Hebrew and about Israel like you do at Hebrew Public in the US, our Hebrew-speaking may suffer in the coming years.
However, we know that the basics of the language will always remain with us and hopefully in the future we can take some classes to bring us back to fluency.
Nevertheless, we know that our memories from a trip to Israel will not fade. It is a remarkable country and we hope to go back and visit again in the future.
A little part of Israel will always remain with us regardless of where we go and what we do in high school and beyond.
Hebrew Public has taught us to be global citizens. It has taught us a language and about a different culture.
However, it did not teach us to love Israel. That came with the experiences we had, the things we saw and the friendships we made.
This post was co-authored by Victor Oleynik