Chloe Pott ’10, of Chicago, Ill., spent time in Israel over winter break on a trip sponsored by Hillel. She was accompanied by Michelle Yockelson ’10, who is vice president of Juniata’s Hillel chapter. Chloe gives us her view of the experience.
What were the reasons for your trip to Israel?
It’s always been a dream of mine, considering my Jewish background. Being an American Jew is not the same as an Israeli Jew, and I wanted to experience that perspective. Also, most Jewish students go on birthright to Israel and I felt as though it was my time to go.
How was this trip arranged? Through Juniata, or some other organization?
It was an international organization, called HIllel. Hillel is not affiliated with Juniata. They plan trips, but their most popular trip takes students age 18-26 to Israel, all expenses paid. You have to apply – the first time I applied, I wasn’t accepted, so the second time I was accepted because I was waitlisted. I wasn’t alone, however; I went along with the vice president of Hillel chapter at Juniata.
What types of things did you get to do during your stay?
We climbed Mount Masada, swam in the Dead Sea, and experienced the Sabbath there. It was mostly sight-seeing via bus tour. We went all throughout Israel, even traveling on old warpaths, with some of the area still covered in mines. We experienced the food, which was amazing. I was only there 10 days of solid sight-seeing. I definitely didn’t feel as though it was long enough.
How do you feel you were accepted?
I have two opinions. On the one hand, I was accepted because we were all Jewish; but on the other, I didn’t feel accepted because we were American tourists and it was obvious —we had nametags and birthright lanyards. At the same time, however, I felt as though I could connect easily because of our religion. We got to spend time with Israeli soldiers not on duty and we bonded so well. I felt a weight being lifted off my shoulders, not having to worry about wearing a Star of David. When I went, everyone was in the post-Hanukah spirit so it was really nice.
During your stay, Gaza conflict ignited again; what was the environment like? And did you worry at all?
Before we left America, I saw it on the news, so my family and I were worried, but were reassured by Hillel International who said if it would not be safe, the trip would be cancelled. While we were there, however, I hate to say, we were very sheltered. Our leaders were told not to tell us anything, so as to not spread panic. I don’t think they wanted us to freak out. We left three days before serious bombing, but while we were there, there were still some bombings happening. I wasn’t aware of this until I came home. However, while I was there, I felt completely safe – we had an armed guard, and we didn’t go to any active militant zones.
What would you want to tell someone considering a trip abroad, semester study, etc. about Israel?
Culturally, it’s a very interesting place. The food is incredible, the people are incredibly nice, and the sight-seeing is beautiful. I would advise that if anyone has the opportunity to go abroad, definitely take it, regardless the place. I’ve been abroad twice, and I feel as though studying abroad is very important to students. Studying abroad opens students’ minds about other cultures and others of differing backgrounds. I would love to go back if I could.
Christopher Bender, ’10, Juniata Online Journalist