Israel Day 18: Raquel Yesner

As we all awoke from our much-needed 8-hour sleep in our comfortable hotel beds, all 138 of us were bright eyed and equipped for the day ahead. 9:10am marked the end of our delicious breakfast at Ramat Rachel followed by an enthusiastic Shacharit service.  We then all gathered in the auditorium eagerly waiting for a speaker, as part of the ‘Stand With Us’ presentation. 
A dark bearded, Mediterranean looking man stood up and took his position to speak. Sitting on the edge of my seat, clenching my hands, I was so keen to hear was this man had to say. The 32-year-old Palestinian man was born, raised and currently living in Bethlehem. He is Christian, married to an Israeli and has a daughter as well as another child on the way. He touched upon the various issues growing up in an Islamic area, describing the both physical and verbal violence he was confronted with whilst growing up. 
Raed grew up with strong morals instilled in him from his Christian home, steering him aside from discrimination and racism. However, his views on Judaism were not exactly positive as a child and young adult due to various encounters with Israelis. Raed explained numerous stories, including times in which his father was mortified at various checkpoints going into Israel… “I watched my father, my hero, my example be humiliated by a teenage soldier.” It was remarkably insightful to hear this perspective, and truly allowed us to empathize with him.
Raed later in life was encouraged to join a peace reconciliation organisation. 
His first meeting included 20 Palestinians and 20 Israelis. Restraining his desire to view to Jews and Israelis in a negative light, he told us how he spoke to an Israeli officer during the meeting. From there his experience with Jews was transformed. Today Raed often inspires both sides to interact with one another even if it is something as simple as talking and eating together - embracing one another. His comment,  “We want peace, not for myself but for the coming generations, the coming leaders and my own children,” really stuck with me, and triggered many thoughts in my head.
Following a delightful lunch, ‘Stand With Us’ organised a stimulating session for each of us, which was to teach us how to reply to controversial questions in relation to Israel. We were given advice on how to interact with people who we may encounter in the future, who might challenge our opinions, which I thought was extremely helpful and important to learn. Through putting the techniques that we learnt into practice, I felt as though my abilities were really tested, and I was pushed to my limits in the best way possible. After this session, I feel much more prepared for any sticky situation that may come my way in which I will need to defend Israel. 
After an incredibly educational morning, IST were lucky enough to go to ‘Jump In!’ which is the Israeli version of ‘Skyzone.’ We all bounced around on the trampolines, releasing all of our built up energy and excitement. It was so much fun and amusing to do some physical activity. After this crazy workout, I was ravenous, and once again IST did not fail to provide. We were taken to a tasty meat restaurant, serving kebabs, pitas, hummus, hot chips and more delicious goodness. We took up almost the entire restaurant (there were one or two other families eating there…they definitely didn’t know what they were getting themselves into when they went for a ‘quiet Thursday night dinner’), and the vibe was amazing! The Madrichim started singing and dancing, and slowly but surely, all of us had involved ourselves, and found ourselves jumping up and down in excitement!
Today was so physically, mentally and emotionally draining, however I really loved every minute of it. Everyone needs a wholesome sleep to rejuvenate and recover from the hectic day we were lucky to have. Thank goodness Shabbat is tomorrow! 


Israel Day 19: Gabe Fittinghoff

Israel Day 17: Lia Swidler