Jillian Feiger, Director of Jewish Student Connection & IST, Shares Her Experience from This Year’s Trip to Israel
This week, I had the pleasure of returning from five weeks in Israel with 72 Colorado teens, in my capacity as the Director of the Joyce Zeff Israel Study Tour (IST). This year, we celebrated the 52nd anniversary of this life-changing Colorado community-wide trip, which has been a jewel of our community since 1971. As I enter Shabbat this week, I am reflecting on our last Shabbat at the Kotel (Western Wall). Our teens gathered in a circle under Robinson’s Arch singing and dancing for our final Kabbalat Shabbat of IST 2022. It is a tradition on IST on the final Shabbat to host B’nai Mitzvot for our teens who may not have had an opportunity. This year, we celebrated two. During the service, these teens led prayers, read from the Torah, and spoke about their own Jewish journeys.
One teen, in her D’var Torah shared, “It is so surreal to finally be here in Israel and even crazier that I get to be here with 71 of my new friends. My relationship with Judaism hasn’t always been a straight line. There were a few years where I thought I could live without it. But, on the first Shabbat of IST when we were singing prayers and swaying in a circle, I felt pride and comfort knowing that the land of Israel is waiting for me.”
At the end of our Shabbat service at the Kotel we took time to remember a teen who was not with us on IST this summer, Koby Gruenwald Z”L, son of Rabbi Salomon and Melanie Gruenwald. Many students on the trip grew up with Koby, who passed away in January of 2018 after a 22-month battle with brain cancer. We often thought of how much fun Koby would have had on this trip. We gathered in a circle and sang together a song that Koby sang dozens of times, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” No Shir Chadash service at the Hebrew Educational Alliance was ever complete without Koby belting out the words.
It was an honor to be a part of this amazing group of teens and staff this summer. Especially this year, the other staffers and I witnessed the true power the Israel Study Tour wields when it comes to enhancing young people’s understanding of and connection to their own Jewish identity, and I could not be more grateful to the JEWISHcolorado team for delivering the tools that have kept this annual adventure going strong. Cheers to 50 more years of IST!
Director of Jewish Student Connection & IST