Shelly Nezaria is a high school student from East Brunswick who sat on the 2018 Israel Teen Summit teen committee, assisting in the planning and organizing of the event. Shelly also received a grant from Jewish Federation towards her educational trip to Israel. The following is her opening speech from the Teen Summit.
By a show of hands, how many of you have been to Israel before?
So thankfully, after receiving a grant from the Jewish Federation, I was actually able to go to Israel this past summer on the Ramah Israel Seminar program. But, before I arrived in Israel, I spent 9 days travelling around Poland, learning about the cities and the history of the country, as well as visiting concentration camps such as Auschwitz, which I’m sure many of you are aware of. My trip to Poland was life changing - and I’m not saying that every Jew should go to Poland and experience what I went through, but if you feel that you are equipped to go on a trip like this, then I urge you to go. After seeing what was left of the concentration and death camps, I understood on a deeper level how special it is to be a Jew and how important having a Jewish state is.
When I arrived in Israel, I spent my first evening at the Western Wall, one of the most sacred places for Jewish people, praying, singing and dancing with Jews from my group, other programs, and even random Israelis. It was such an amazing experience, and a great kickoff to the rest of the summer. Throughout the summer, I actually travelled with some other kids on our committee here. We went from the north in Haifa, to the center in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, to the South by Eilat and Sde Boker. As an Israeli, I felt that it was easy to assimilate into the Israeli culture. From drinking pomegranate juice at Shuk HaCarmel to negotiating a better deal on my Hamsa necklace (which I’m currently wearing) from Tzfat, Israel is truly an entirely different world than New Jersey.
Israel is bursting with life. The people are so warm, hospitable, and helpful with whatever you need. Cafes on every corner, paddleball on the beach, incredible sunny weather, and an endless supply of pita and hummus and so much other amazing food, are only a few of the authentic attributes that this country has to offer. Israel is a melting pot. And while that is unique, it evidently has also sparked controversy over thousands of years, particularly between Israelis and Palestinians. After my trip to Israel, I was able to grasp why claiming Israel as our home is so essential to the strength of the Jewish people.
I sincerely hope that our conference today gives you all a glimpse of what Israel is and truly stands for. Hopefully some of you may even be inspired to visit Israel soon, if possible. Israel is an astounding country, a special place to live, with worlds of opportunity. I hope all of you get the chance to go someday. Thank you.