We touched down in Israel and it was an experience that I will hold onto for the rest of my life. This trip was an authentic lens into the life, culture and beauty that is Israel and the Negev.
It has been about three weeks since the 4th Ramat HaNegev Bachman Young Leadership Delegation returned to Las Vegas from Israel. The delegation was made up of seven women who were nominated by different Jewish organizations from around the Valley. The delegation included Alyson Sinai (Temple Beth Sholom); Jessica Evans (Temple Sinai); Julie Unger (Congregation Ner Tamid); Katie Brase (Midbar Kodesh Temple); Dani Molin (Jewish National Fund); Jessica Poole (Jewish Nevada), and me, Danica Torchin (Jewish Community Center). For 2 weeks, we embarked on this crazy adventure around the land of milk and honey. For me, this trip was an opportunity to explore parts of Israel that I had not yet seen and create a more meaningful connection to Israel.
Appropriately, we started in Jerusalem. “Jerusalem was one of my favorite stops,” exclaimed delegate Jessica Poole, “The markets were absolutely incredible! The history of the Old City itself was so remarkable it almost didn’t seem real”. In Jerusalem, we marveled at the ruins at the City of David and discussed politics at the Western Wall. We walked through the halls of Yad Vashem and listened to our guide Penny – the grandchild of a Holocaust survivor – talk about Hitler’s rise to power, The Righteous who helped Jews survive, and the role anti-Semitism still plays in our world today. We visited Mount Herzl and heard from the Ramat HaNegev partnership coordinator Jared White about Theodor Herzl and the impact he had on Zionism. Jared also shared personal stories about his paratrooper friends and other significant heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice fighting for their country and their families. For all its historical significance, Jerusalem is most definitely a modern, vibrant city. The people are multicultural, the food is diverse and the atmosphere at shopping centers like Mahane Yehuda Market is electric.
After Jerusalem, we spent an afternoon in Tel Aviv at Rabin Square. Jared talked about Rabin’s mark on Israel and we saw the site of his assassination. We explored the graffiti-lined streets of Florentine – an up-and-coming neighborhood for young Jews in Tel Aviv – with the help of our friend and energetic graffiti artist Niva Alush. After Tel Aviv, we headed down South for our first night on Kibbutz Revivim, located in Ramat HaNegev. The week that we spent on the Kibbutz was one of the most unique and wonderful experiences of my life. In the words of my friend and fellow delegate Julie Unger, staying on the Kibbutz was “humbling”. Society tends to place an unhealthy amount of happiness on having more money, many times at the expense of having or maintaining a family. If I learned one thing about living on Kibbutz Revivim, it’s that the kibbutznik are there to build community, not make money.
Delegate Katie Brase says her favorite part of the trip was “getting a solid understanding of kibbutz life”.” Some of the highlights of staying on the Kibbutz were the home-housed dinners where we ate with our Israeli friends, meeting with farmers and cultivators who are changing the way we think about food and growth in our communities as well as seeing the natural beauty of the areas surrounding Ramat HaNegev, including the waterfall in Ein Avdat and even the beauty at the Gaza Border. Fellow delegate Dani Molin recalled her time at the Gaza Border saying she loved going there to “…witness both the beauty and pain that takes place there every day. I realized that this land is protected by more than an incredible defense force, but by the love of the people and dedication to their country”.
Another highlight of this trip was all the time we spent working with children in the Regional Council. We were in Ramat HaNegev for its annual Purim Parade, where students spend months out of the year planning this outstanding parade with floats made out of recycled materials. We also had the opportunity to visit the Mashabim School and make s’mores, play games and do an art project with the 5th graders. We visited the Ramat HaNegev Regional Council and met with a panel of powerful women in the region who talked about their lives on the Kibbutz and their journeys to success. We heard from Mayor Eran Doron about the plans he has for the region, including building the new high school and creating more partnerships with other cities. There are too many memories in Ramat HaNegev to recount, but every single moment spent there was an absolute wonder.
Other amazing moments on this trip included learning about the history of Masada, floating in the Dead Sea, doing yoga in Yeruham, making mosaics for the regional council, competing in a Master Chef-type program with our Israeli friends, walking around Jaffa and learning the historical - and at times mythological - significance of the city, riding bikes around Tel Aviv, and sharing in amazing meals together all over the country. This trip would not have been the same if it were not for our outstanding Israeli-American guide: Jared White. His knowledge and excitement for Israel and Ramat HaNegev are unparalleled. He weaved personal stories into every piece of information he gave us which not only made me personally trust him, but it gave me another level of connection to Israel. We became very close, not only to Jared, but to one another, on this trip. Delegation liaison and alum of the partnership Danielle Rubenstein joined us on the trip and really summed up what it was like making connections with these women: “The bond that we created is so strong. It gives me great hope and pride in what this partnership is doing and has done, not only for us individually, but for our community”.
“I’ll forever cherish the relationships I forged with the women of Las Vegas on this journey,” said delegate Jessica Evans, “and the Israelis that welcomed us into their lives”. This trip meant more to me than anyone could ever imagine. Alan Bachman and his late wife Judy Bachman are strong supporters of this program and of the continuation of the Jewish community in Las Vegas. To Alan, I want to reiterate that this program is not just another trip to Israel. Alan’s support is directly impacting communities by bringing us together, showing us our connection to Israel and helping the delegates create a strong Jewish identity. It’s not very often that someone makes such an impact but that is what he is doing with giving delegates like us this opportunity. Alan’s good friends Laurence and Joan Davis are also making significant impacts with their scholarship program. Seeing the Davis’ in Israel, how Mayor Doran and the rest of the Israeli community welcome them in like family, is a real testament to how much they care about this program, the community and the delegates. On behalf of all the delegates, I want to thank Alan Bachman, Laurence & Joan Davis, Mayor Doran, Jared White, the Ramat HaNegev Regional Council, Danielle Rubinstein, as well as the community leaders who participated in sending a delegate on this trip. I am personally looking forward to working on ways to bring more people to Ramat HaNegev and keep us connected to our friends in the region.
This trip sparked something inside each and every one of us and we are all so grateful and appreciative to have been able to be chosen for this opportunity. “My favorite part is now understanding the passionate feeling expressed by people that have been to Israel,” said delegate Alyson Sinai, “At one point on the trip I thought ‘I get it now!’”. The delegation spent hours working on projects that we want to carry out, from educating and informing our community members about the region to starting programs that will bring even more people to the region. This trip was incredibly transformative for all of the delegates involved, and now our mission is to share our stories, so the Las Vegas community can hear about the phenomenal people, culture, and lifestyle in Ramat HaNegev.