Dani Folkman – Tisha B’Av August 9 – our last day together.
Tisha Bav with SOS international was an experience like no other. We started by reading Eicha at the Tesslers’ friends from Potomac, Dennis and Debra Berman, on their porch in Jerusalem, overlooking the Old City. This serene backdrop set the mood for the solemn night and we all felt it. After reading eicha, Aviva explained that the word eicha can be translated as “where are you” and we each said where we “were” while coming to the end of the program. Each and every one of us was able to say that we were in a better place emotionally and spiritually thanks to the past three weeks. We have all grown from this summer.
The next day we started our morning by visiting Yad Vashem the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. We then read Kinot in the shul there. Later on, Jacob Hendali, a survivor of Auschwitz, who grew up in Thessaloniki came to the Youth Hostel to speak to us. He now lives in Jerusalem. Despite Mr.Hendali’s medical challenges he came to share his story. I can’t think of a better way to tie everything together. And finally it was time for our farewell dinner where we laughed and hugged and ate together as a family for the last time. And as the meal came to a close, slowly, people started to leave.
Now those are the facts. That is what happened. But that is not what is important.
Aviva asked us “ayeka”. “Where are you”. If she would have asked me this three weeks ago I would have said I am a 15 year old girl on a summer program in Greece. But when she asked me now, the answer was much more complex. Where am I? I am in a place where I am proud to be a Jew. Where I am is proud to call Israel my home, where I can say that I made a difference in at least one person’s life; where I feel that I have grown as a person and as a Jew.
When Aviva asked me “ayeka” and I stared at the circle of faces surrounding me on the rooftop all I could think about is that I was home. Everyone in every camp leaves with friends. But us teenagers of SOS 2011 left with a family. In our group every boy was my big brother, there to look out for me and protect me. Every girl was my sister, someone to laugh with and share clothes and talk all night. Rabbi and Aviva Tessler were my parents, there to love me and take care of me.
Tisha bav is supposed to be a day to grieve over the destruction of the Temple and the murder of many Jewish people. But with the mourning of death, comes an appreciation for life. And after this trip I have never appreciated life more. This year on Tisha Ba’av my tears were for my family that I will miss terribly when we go our separate ways. This year, my tears are because no one can ever understand the bond that was created over the past few weeks and there is no way to truly articulate how we feel. We saw each other at our most genuine moments. We saw each other being happy and uncomfortable and embarrassed and sick and excited and cry (a lot) We saw each other for who we truly are.
Something I’ve learned on this program is that everything happens for a reason. It is no coincidence that we were all here together. We all had things in our lives that we wanted to work out, and we could not have grown and matured the way we did alone. We needed each other to help and inspire us to be the best we could be. No one can do it alone. Hashem always has a plan. And I will thank Hashem everyday for the rest of my life for letting me be a part of this one. I will miss you guys so much, thank you for the summer that changed my life.