On June 11, the first of two IST cohorts landed safely in Israel, and after an impressive 100% passing rate on their COVID antibody tests, our Colorado kids officially became the very first teen trip—from anywhere—to visit the country since pandemic travel restrictions shut down the world.
At the airport on the day of their departure, IST participant Joe Ptacek called the moment “satisfying… and relieving. I’ve been waiting for so long, and it’s finally here.”
According to reports from Israel, it’s hard to say who is more excited: our ISTers, who have been waiting more than a year for this experience, or the locals, whose joy at seeing our intrepid tour group is, according to the teens, both visible and visceral.
Chief Jewish Life and Engagement Officer Julie Lieber said, “They are getting such a warm welcome, and even though it was a long and difficult process, these kids are going to have a really deep sense of how much Israel appreciates Jews like themselves, who travel to Israel and, by doing so, show their support of the country and its people.”
IST participant Ethan Mendelsberg recalled his encounter with a local Orthodox man at the Western Wall, saying, “He was so kind. It was like we’d been friends for years. He wanted to hear my story; he wanted to listen. He’s got friends around the world now.” Said Lieber, “Part of JEWISHcolorado’s mission is to connect our local community with Israel, and these teens are learning firsthand that Israelis want to be connected.”
After spending their first four days touring the city of Jerusalem and some of the holiest sites the country has to offer, the first IST group is now headed south, to Ramat HaNegev, where they’ll spend time exploring the Negev Desert Region.
In short, the sunscreen is flowing, the bus naps are relaxing, and the hummus is plentiful. And that is all as it should be.