Israel Day 28-31: Jess Liebovitz

Being a parent means loving your kids more than anything else in the world. For some kids, drugs and alcohol were loved more than they were, and for others, being abused was the only 'affection' they were given. The past few days at the Emunah kids house in Afula have been absolutely life changing. We came to teach the kids and bring a much needed smile to each of their faces, although I believe that the kids themselves taught me more about my own life and brought more smiles to my face! 24 of us chose to do a mitzvah and give three days to two different Emunah houses. These houses support around 150 kids both half day and residentially. They supply 3 hot meals a day, clothes, education, therapy and most importantly, the love and support that their parents deprived them of. Over these 3 days we saw how kids with so many struggles and so little in their lives can walk in the door with the world’s largest smile- appreciating everything from a toy, sandwich or friend.  Seeing the staff love these kids as if they were their own was truly inspiring, and so beautiful to watch. We experienced many things during the 3 days, consisting of cleaning and folding their laundry, cleaning around the campus and helping the children with their homework. Tasks that our parents do on a daily basis and we don't even recognise! The stories that we heard about these children’s lives were heartbreaking, and the very fact that each of them are only 7 years old and have already undergone so much, is truly devastating. Whilst the last few days have been extremely challenging and confronting, each one of us who chose the volunteering option have had our lives changed forever. 
Ulpan - Samantha Rubinstein
After an inspiring Shabbat in Kibbutz Ein Tzurim, options week had finally arrived! The lucky 8 of us who had chosen to go to Uplan Or arrived in Jerusalem on a minibus.  As we arrived at Ulpan Or, we had an introduction, where we were informed that we would barely be speaking English for the next few days. One of Ulpan's methods, is to speak Hebrew whilst touring different historical places in Jerusalem. Over the few days we were at Ulpan Or, we explored the Ancient German Colony and a Colonial British jail. We presented points about each of the sites, in semi-fluent Hebrew. Each day after our tour, we would return to the Ulpan Or building and enjoy more classes. We learnt songs, played games, and listened to dialogues all in Hebrew. From this our vocabularies expanded exponentially! On the first night, the eight of us enjoyed dinner at Malcha Mall, and then made use of our time to shop. After that we headed to our hotel, and got the luxury of a good night's sleep. At the end of the second day we were lucky enough to go Go-Karting in Jerusalem. After a quick instruction on safety, we strapped on our helmets, buckled ourselves into the karts and accelerated to our heart's content. Going at speeds that would have put us in jail in Australia, but were perfectly acceptable in Israel, we completed lap after lap as fast as we could, sometimes bumping into the walls or each other. Filled with energy and adrenaline, we returned to the hostel and had a quick dinner before leaving for cinema city. The three boys decided to have some bonding time and saw 'Star Wars' while us girls had 2.5 hours to shop. On the last day of Ulpan Or, we had class in the morning followed by amazing falafel for lunch and then a final session. We received certificates certifying our completion of our Ulpan Or course. We all felt as though we had learned a lot and an amazing bond with our group has been formed. I can say that we are all more confident because of this experience and it was a definite highlight of this amazing journey! 

Hike - By Jodi Fink
The silence of the desert was piercing as 56 students lay in pure meditation at the summit of one of the highest mountains in the Negev. It was at this exact moment that every single one of us understood that this hike was more than just a physical endeavor, it was an intrinsic mental journey. Standing at the bottom of each mountain, it was difficult to fathom the possibility of climbing to the top. However it was at these times that we realized the unifying experience we were all part of. Every single one of us there had decided by choice to take part in this three day hike. It was because of this exact reason that every single one of us took upon the responsibility to encourage, support and persevere as a family. Whenever I was struggling both physically and mentally to continue up the steep incline of the mountain, all I had to do was look at the front of the group and see our tour guide who was 6 months pregnant with an aura of optimism to remind myself that I can do it.
Each day consisted of a 20km hike through the intimidating mountains of the Negev. This overwhelming distance provided us with opportunities to engage in enlightening discussions with not only with our own friendships circles but with other students and Madrichim. The lack of suburban life and rather a vast, empty but peaceful landscape of the Negev steered our conversations to ones of meaning and depth, a mere reflection of the exact environment we were in. The indescribable feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction resonated throughout our bodies as we reached the top of the mountain and looked down to see what we had just conquered. 
There was one more aspect of the hike that made it a definite highlight of IST. The familial bond created between all participants. Each night after arriving at camp we all pitched our tents, layered on all of our warm clothing and began to make dinner together. Weather it was singing old songs while deep frying potatoes or acting like master chefs while chopping up the salads, these simplistic tasks which would often seem mundane, transformed into an unforgettable bonding experience. Following a delicious self made dinner, we would all huddle around our bonfire for hours listening to music, singing songs and sharing stories that we will never forget. This hike will undoubtedly remain cemented in my memories and I'm so grateful that I was able to be apart of this unforgettable experience. Davening amidst the desert sunrise, sleeping under the stars and persevering through the toughest but most rewarding three days of IST- these are only a glimpse into the incredible adventures we embarked on. 60 km later and I would do it all over again.

Midrasha - By Ella Smuskowitz
As we all departed from our huge group of IST, 28 holy sisters decided to go on a learning adventure to become more in touch with our neshamot. We spent time at Aish HaTorah and Midreshet Harova- both incredible learning institutions located in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem. Each of the shiurim that we heard inspired us in different ways, and the amazing ideas and teachings that we learnt will definitely stay with us for a long time to come. On the second day, we woke up at 5am to go daven at the Kotel. Despite the early wake up, everyone had energy and prayed with kavana, as the sun came up behind us and the birds chirped alongside the prayers of hundreds. As a reward for our early wake up, we went and got coffee and pastries for breakfast, before making our way to Midreshet Harova for another day of learning! We were exposed to all sorts of ways that one can develop a personal connection to the Torah, one of which being through art.  A woman from ‘Kol HaOt,’ which is an artists company that depicts the stories from the Torah through beautiful artwork, came to teach us how to express ideas that we can see in the Torah into pieces of art. It was very interesting to see that everyone truly does have their own special way of connecting to Judaism and G-d. After a delicious home cooked meal at Miriam’s house, all of us left feeling very full, physically and spiritually.
Over the course of three days, we were exposed to a variety of wise speakers, teachers and Rabbis, all who helped make our experience so amazing and educational, with such a wide range of topics and opinions. On top of this, the fact that we spent three days in the Old City of Jerusalem helped create such a special and holy atmosphere. Overall, these past three days were absolutely incredible, and I think we all learnt so much and took so much away from the experience.

Yeshiva - By Jared Goldberg
Options week gave 21 boys an incredible Torah learning experience over 3 memorable days. In multiple Yeshivot, together we learnt practical law, Jewish ethics and values. Collectively we enjoyed multiple shiurim, Gemara classes and captivating Mussar talks. We began our week at Aish, where Rabbi Yomtov lectured, after which our very own Jonty Blackman gave insight at Hakotel Yeshiva on the coming week’s Parasha. He stressed the importance of looking at both sides of the spectrum which he illustrated by the behaviour of Yosef. Later that evening, Rav Gav fought hard in a Q&A, expressing his personal belief in G-d, logically explained. The following morning the early morning minyan left at 5:30 to the Kotel were we reached the pinnacle of davening as the sun rose.  The day was filled with learning at Eretz Hatzvi where we soaked up the amazing Beis-midrash Yeshiva atmosphere. It was truly inspiring to see over 100 boys about 18 years of age, crouched over their books, studying the holy words of Torah so meticulously. That night, Yoni and Nina taught us songs and shared ideas through story. Their strong ruach inspired us all.  Tuesday was our last day, and despite it being a fast day, everyone was eager to continue learning. Yeshivat Ohr Somayach allowed for us to do this. Ex-moriah student Rabbi Kahn taught us the significance of the fast day, and after that we were introduced to the skill of independent Gamara learning. Whilst we all struggled, it was amazing to see each of our peers getting completely into the ‘vibe’ of the Yeshiva world, and grappling with ideas and concepts that our ancestors have been doing for so many years before us. Our time at Yeshiva was truly incredible few days. Together we challenged ideas, questioned concepts, and grew our knowledge on Torah. We had both a unique experience and captivating time. Yeshiva week will remain a fond memory and definitely a highlight of IST.

Israel Day 31: Jacob Suk

Israel Day 27: Eden Shifroni