SIEP and March of the Living Meet in Holy Land


From left to right: Alexis G. (’24) and Alana W. (’24) celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day, for the first time in Tel Aviv, Israel, on May 4, 2022.

Before going to Israel as part of the Short Israel Exchange Program (SIEP), I was very close-minded when it came to my Jewish identity, although I go to a Jewish high school. 

One of the most pivotal moments for me in Israel regarding my Jewish identity was Shabbat in Jerusalem. My friend Lexi and I were motivated by our tour guide Shimon as he was telling us about why he loves Shabbat so much. He uses this time to reflect on his week and to connect with the people around him without any distractions like phones or tv, he said. So Lexi and I, being super-inspired, decided we would attempt to keep a full Shabbat, especially since we were in the holiest city in the world. We didn’t use our phones the whole time and we successfully kept Shabbat, and I had such a great time. I felt like I had such a meaningful Shabbat as I got to connect deeper with my peers and not worry about the little things in life. 

Although it might be more difficult for me to keep Shabbat in LA because the whole city isn’t observing it like Jerusalem, I plan on trying to keep it more often at home whether it be lighting candles or eating challah.

One of the coolest parts of the Israel trip for me was going to the Kotel after Havdalah, where I happened to run into my cousin who was on the March of the Living trip. Not only was it super-spiritual being at the Western Wall where my Jewish ancestors prayed 2000 years ago, but the fact that I ran into my cousins in one of the holiest places in the world made me feel closer to Hashem than ever.

Another really special part of the trip to me was that we happened to be in Israel during Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. I’ve never seen so much Jewish pride in my entire life. Israeli flags surrounded the city: flags on cars and apartment buildings, in restaurant windows, and pretty much everywhere. My favorite moments during Yom Ha’atzmaut had to be during the nighttime when we went to an outdoor festival. There were many people there and so much going on, with different performers and artists.

When I used to think about Israel, the first thing that came to my mind was the Western Wall and that was pretty much it. I never truly realized how modern a country it is, with all of its technology and architecture until we arrived in Tel Aviv. 

The best thing that I came back home with was a sense of reassurance and safety. It’s comforting to know that we have Israel, the only Jewish state, as a place to go. I can definitely say that now I have a second place to call home.

As I reflect on my past two weeks, I truly had the best time–it was my first time in Israel with some of my best friends, peers, and teachers. I bonded with my classmates, learned the history of how Israel came to be, and, most of all, I connected more deeply with my Jewish identity. I can go on and on about the memorable experiences I had in Israel, whether it be the food we ate or the people we met. These were a couple of moments that were my favorite.