I can complain a lot about Israeli teens. Annoying. Self centered. Materialistic. Obnoxious. They thread a yarn of frustrating moments and exhaustion into every hike, forcing my voice to rise above my cheerful volume. They pull the yarn tighter, making fun of my accent and complaining about the heat. They talk back most of the time, believing fully that they always know what’s right. They are the youth of Israel.
They do all this but also string on some golden beads of character. They kiss the mezuzah, talk about Shabbat plans, and ask me when I’m going to get married already. They always help unpacking the bus and offer their hand to one another on challenging uphills. They sing and dance and make up cheers. They ask deep questions and might even get goosebumps singing Hatikvah. They take kosher bites of food and discuss after-school clubs and minimum-wage jobs. They are the future of Israel.
Then there are the M’shatzim (Madrich Shelach Tzaer), the high school leaders connecting schools to trails, connecting adolescence to responsibility. Tour guiding, leading courses and teaching outdoors skills, these 9th-12th graders bring tears to my eyes with their love for one another and the world. They give and give and give until their voice sounds hoarse and their hands are covered in bandages. They plan and execute activities, focusing on the path of improvement. They are the leaders of Israel.
Within these clusters of teens, there are always the voices of individuals who speak up. A 10th grader organizing a fundraiser for at-risk teens, entering an international start-up competition, organizing a group of friends to hike a section of the Israel Trail…these are the regular sparks beaming off from the tradition of initiative. I walk away from leading the two-week outdoors course for M’shatzim exhausted but deeply inspired.
I call upon these teens to climb up even higher, demand them to arrive at specific times, to trust me when I do this all for their benefit… all while they sleep in their fragile, handmade tents. Being responsible for kids five years younger than me, I make a strong stance that I am representing the authority of the head of the course and everything I say is with his agreement. It’s all from the breathtaking teachers, mostly secular, giving thanks to Hashem and honoring the chain of our nation. It’s with love and belief that the teens are capable. That’s what fires the growth in this journey.
I am standing with the 750 M’shatzim of the Haifa Region at the Kotel, in rows of three with hands behind our back. The yarn is now glistening. The 16-year-old leader screams “two, three” and the voices around me answer back “Hakshev” (aka attention). Shivers rise on everyone’s arms. “Two, three”, “Hakshev,” and the Kotel echoes back to us. More shivers. The Kotel begins this dialogue with us. We answer back a pledge of commitment to all that Shelach stands for. We sing Hatikvah and the tourists surrounding us join in. Someone taps me on the shoulder and in his heavy American accent asks me if I speak English. I smile and ask how he could tell. He introduces himself and his wife, visiting from Washington DC and asks me what’s going on here. I tell them that this is a course for Israeli teens to become tour guides in their schools. He shakes his head in amazement, “I was just saying, I hope we see Israeli ruach when we go to the Kotel. Like this wouldn’t happen in America. This is just so Israeli, so much ruach.”
Being part of something bigger inspires the individual to keep expanding past original limitations. Being part of something bigger taps me on the should and whispers into my ear that I am making my hours count. Being part of something bigger allows my dreams to become plans and my wishes to become the future. Being part of this means I care about it more. It’s part of me more. It’s building me just as I’m building it. A few students tell me how much I have changed them. I think about the big speeches and the small moments, the frustrating lacks of judgment and the hilarious jokes… All this now part of me. I hug each one of them tightly and say, “No, you’ve changed me.”