The Kotel and Kramim: An Israel Reflection 


Alexis Gavin

Sophomore SIEP (Short Israel Exchange Program) students visited the Kotel, one of the holiest places in Israel, on May 7, 2022.

As a kid, being Jewish meant getting eight gifts on Channukah or eating matzah ball soup at Brent’s Deli. I was never religious. I never celebrated Shabbat or went to temple. I didn’t know what it meant to be Jewish.  

In sixth grade, I hated the school I was at. I was truly miserable, and it led to me being pulled out towards the end of the year. I decided to repeat the grade since I was more than a year younger than most classmates. We looked at different schools, deciding which would be the best fit. My parents decided to send me to Valley Beth Shalom. I thought it was so random that they chose to send me to a Jewish school when we were “barely” Jewish. I never thought I would fit in. It was completely different from what I was used to, and I expected to hate it. But it turned out to be the best decision of my life. After Valley Beth Shalom, I went to Milken, then ended up at de Toledo. 

After four years at Jewish schools, I still didn’t feel Jewish. Even though all my friends were Jewish, and I spent every day practicing Hebrew, I felt like an outsider. I soon became a sophomore, and deToledo offered an opportunity to travel to Israel as a class. I didn’t sign up at first. I was nervous about going across the country to a place I didn’t feel connected to. After realizing that all my friends were going, I knew I would have major FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and signed up. 

When we arrived at our first stop, Aroma, I looked at Israel differently. I know what you are thinking: how can Aroma change my perspective on my Jewish identity? But it did. Seeing all the Israeli soldiers waiting to order ice coffee and all my friends trying to order in Hebrew made me excited to be in Israel, a home I never knew I had. 

Two places I will never forget are the Kotel and Kramim. I have never felt more connected to Judaism than I did at the Kotel. I felt a spark when my hand touched the wall. My mind was filled with things I needed to say, and I couldn’t look away. I stayed in front of the wall for 15 minutes, but I could stand there for 15 hours and still have more to say. I feel Judaism in my heart more than ever after visiting the wall, and it was the most incredible experience of my life. 

When I arrived at Kramim, I hated it. I thought the next few days in quarantine would be awful and boring. However, it was my favorite part of the entire trip. I made some of my best friends that I would never have expected to get close to in those three days. It was a fantastic bonding experience with my classmates and the teachers who were chaperoning. The Shabbat experience there was incredible. It was probably my fourth Shabbat ever, so it was so special that I could celebrate in Israel. I loved the Havdalah because we all became vulnerable with each other, and I felt the most connected to Judaism during this moment. 

My entire life, I’ve felt so disconnected from my religion. I never wanted to go to temple or Shabbat. I never wanted to try in Hebrew because, in two years, I wouldn’t have to take it anymore. But after the SIEP (Short Israeli Exchange Program) trip, my entire perspective on Judaism changed. I have a new love for my religion that I never expected to find. I have a new place to call home, filled with people exactly like me. Israel is a place where I felt like I belonged. So I wear my Jewish star around my neck every day to represent my newfound connection to Judaism and a new place I call home.