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Israel 2024 – May 9: Lyla Levin

May 9 was filled with a mixture of emotions. We started our day off with a beautiful Rosh Hodesh Tefillah and breakfast at our hotel. 

We boarded the bus and made our way to the Yaffo Institute of Tel Aviv to volunteer by packaging boxes of food boxes for the people in the community who need it most. We learned about the many operations that the Yaffo Institute does to give back to the community and how the food distribution system started because of the growing need for food for the less fortunate people in the community. They were the first organization to see that it wasn’t just at-risk youth who needed help through the after school programming, but that the adults and grandparents in these kids’ lives also needed services. 

We spent time working in an assembly line filling boxes full of dry pantry goods that will last families for the month. There was definitely some heavy lifting and a learning curve, but we eventually got it down to a science. After hearing about the changes to the Institution since October 7th, we headed to a beautiful park overlooking the Mediterranean. 

Once we reapplied our כרם הגנה (sunscreen, and Avery’s favorite new Hebrew word), we had a very meaningful conversation in the Jewish heartland about  our own Jewish identity.  Our madrich, Ofir, led the activity. Hearing how the KBA kids feel the same way about transitioning to high school was so helpful and I think it put all of us at ease. 

After our deep conversation that, we switched gears for some fun. There was a big hill on the way down to an awesome playground, so obviously we had to roll down the hill! After we raced down the hill, we realized maybe it wasn’t our best idea because there were burrs stuck all over our clothes and in our hair. Even though we were a little scratched up, we had so much fun playing at the playground before some great pizza.  

Once we were done with our lunch, we went to the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, named for Shimon Peres. There, we learned about Israeli innovation in the past, present, and future. We saw holograms of Israeli innovators, used VR, and heard about the start up business that earned Israel the title of a start up nation. It was a really cool, interactive museum and it was interesting to see how many major inventions and innovations Israel is responsible for! 

After this we switched gears again and prepared to go to כיכר חהטופים (Hostage Square). On the way there, Hillary explained how the square came to be a place for the families and the general Jewish community. When we got there, we participated in a prayer circle with a 10th grade class from Israel and other visitors. Miriam brought up a really great point that she noticed: at one point, a group of teens on birthright stopped and watched us and they seemed really touched and inspired by us being there.

In the circle, we met a wonderful older woman named Ilanya, who explained how she was born in Baghdad on the day that the UN voted to partition Israel into two states back in 1947. She said she feels like her entire life has been very intertwined with the state of Israel and its ups and downs and has advocated on many news networks and forums because she speaks both fluent Hebrew (from making Aliyah when she was 4) and Arabic. She told us a really inspiring story about the earlier days of כיכר החטופים when people went there to celebrate a young hostage named Ohad’s birthday. She was the one who started singing happy birthday to him, and that segment was broadcasted everywhere. A terrorist in Gaza saw the video and showed it to another child hostage. Days later, the other hostage was moved in with Ohad and was able to tell him all about how people back home in Israel and all over the world hadn’t forgotten about him or his 9th birthday. Ohad has since been released and is home with his family. He and Ilanya have met, too! 

Right before we left Hostage Square, we found something very special from home. We saw the letters that the middle school wrote that held hopes and prayers for Israel back when we were marking the passing of 100 days that the hostages were in captivity. It was the first piece of Cleveland we’ve found on our journey in Israel and we know that it won’t be the last time that we discover such a connection. 

After a full day of learning about so many aspects of the state of Israel, we had a pizzur dinner at The Sarona food hall. When we were stuffed from delicious food, we headed back to the hotel and packed up for our move to our host families.

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