Despite the sometimes serious content of our recent programming, throughout our time in Jerusalem, the teens bonded and grew as individuals and as a cohort. On Thursday, we went on a short hike to Ein Avdat, a natural spring in the desert, just underneath Sde Boker. Because of the smoldering heat, we were not able to climb the neighboring steps to the reserve. However, (since we are keeping the kiddos cool and minimally sweaty!) our tour guide, Pauline, led the group to the newly unrestricted side of the spring to enjoy the shade and beautiful view. As the group chanted hydration cheers and supported each other during the hike, Megan and I smiled at each other, goofing that we are such proud mommies! At Ben Gurion’s grave later that day, we engaged in conversation about what makes a good leader. Again the teens showed their maturity and newfound understanding of the group dynamic, talking about stepping up and taking a step back, by using examples from their own lives, not just through the Diller program.
Friday morning we visited two more solemn attractions: Yad Vashem, the national Holocaust Museum, and Mount Herzl, the national military cemetery and the pantheon of the great of the nation. Because only 4 fellows had never before visited the Holocaust Museum, I was nervous that the group would not be as attentive as they should be. Not as a big surprise, I was wrong; the teens were interested, respectful and diligent students, asking mature and thought-provoking questions. Upon leaving the Museum and thanking our tour guide for his engaging tour experience, he remarked that he rarely has such mature conversation with a group of the fellows’ age group and praised them for being special, genuine, and mature kids (as if we didn’t know this already!). At the cemetery, Pauline shared the stories of Israeli and American soldiers alike, creating a relatable tour which the teens responded to emotionally and empathetically. Next, the teens switched gears as they entered the mayhem that is Machane Yehuda. There we split the teens up into groups of 4 and presented them with the challenge of trading with the vendors and convincing one vendor to let them sell behind the counter with them. We left Ben Yehuda with colorful and exciting pictures and videos perfect for the first dinner when we’re back home and the teens are too tired to talk but you want to hear about the trip.
To bring in Shabbat, the Baltimore Cohort, together with Tal Gale, Co-Director of the Diller Program and Coordinator of Diller North America, enjoyed a Kabbalat Shabbat service at the Kotel. Going around in a circle, Morgan led us in his family’s tradition of sharing what we are thankful for while giving tzedakah. Next, we expressed our hopes for the weeks to come. After reflecting on our experiences during the week and our hopes for the rest of the trip, we were finally in the proper mindset for the Western Wall. At the Wall, the teens reacted differently, some wanting to sit by themselves and think, while others joined groups from all over the world in song and dance. Also at the Kotel, we ran into Diller cohorts from other North American cities. It was thrilling to see the group excited to meet the other cohorts, as they ran up to peer groups with fingers crossed that they were a Diller group. On the walk back to the hotel, I had the opportunity to talk with some of the teens about their reactions to the Kotel. Whether they were impressed with the communal aspect of the Kotel, understanding the magnitude of the attraction, or just grappling with the large scale impact of the Western Wall throughout Jewish history, the teens comprehended the connection of Jews around the world. Just as they are excited to learn more about international Jewish communities, I am excited to watch them engage in dialogue with other teens, hear opinions they would not otherwise hear, and marvel in the amazing opportunity which the Diller program offers.