I grew up in Denver, but I went on the Joyce Zeff Israel Tour (IST) for the first time this summer at the age of 47. I realize it’s 30 years later than expected, but this summer, I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. This trip was almost not possible, and it took an international flight and a Shabbat spent in quarantine for me to realize, “Wow, we are really in Israel.”
After Shabbat, we began our tour in the Old City. Boaz, our Israeli guide, added energy and stories to each monument we passed. I was able to see Jerusalem again, but through the eyes of our teens and share the first-time awe as they saw their Jewish history come to life. The ISTers understood that the people and places they learned about in a classroom were real and there for them to connect with and experience firsthand. As a veteran Religious School teacher this was well… so cool
One time-honored IST tradition happens at the Kotel. IST families write a letter to their teen for them to open as they stand in the holiest place for the Jewish people. Included in the letters are blessings, wishes, memories, and advice.
I work with some incredible people, who are also my friends, and they made sure I also had Kotel letters to open. It was powerful, beautiful, and made that time sacred. It also gave me a few moments to experience IST as a participant and not a staff member.
In that moment, I was on IST and having the summer of a lifetime!
I am so grateful to JEWISHcolorado, the Joyce Zeff Israel Study Tour Endowment and RootOne for everything they have done to support and ensure that the legacy of IST continues not only this year, but for many years to come. IST would have not been possible without the dedication of the Jewish Life & Engagement Team and our leadership from Rabbi Jay Strear, Dr. Julie Lieber, and Jillian Feiger and the knowledge and experience of our Israeli Emissary, Itai Divinsky.
Although I was only on IST for a short while (my family missed me!), I am anxiously awaiting the countless stories at the post trip gathering from the 80 incredible teens and 5 committed and caring staff.
By Michelle Schwartz
Teen emissary program director & Israel engagement coordinator