We are thrilled to share with you the insightful essay that earned Seattle’s Edee Polyakovsky the Reynold and Martha Atlas Torch of Learn of Learning Award. In her essay below, Edee, a student at Roosevelt High School, offers her reflections on the transformative impact that taking part in the 2019 Teen Israel Leadership Institute (TILI) made on her Jewish journey and strengthening her bond with Israel. We’re so gratified to see that Edee is building on her TILI experience and growing into communal leadership! She traveled to Israel on a Samis Foundation incentive grant that she received for completing TILI requirements. Edee also participated in the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, DC, March 1–3 and has been accepted into our Student to Student program to educate her peers about Judaism. Take it from Edee — TILI was a powerful educational and leadership development experience! We encourage Jewish high school students to apply for the next TILI. You can learn more at jewishinseattle.org/tili.
-by Nomi Mitchell, Israel Education & Engagement Program Manager Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle
Distance in Israel: A Critical Understanding
This past May, I had the opportunity to attend the Teen Israel Leadership Institute (TILI) at the University of Washington Hillel. It was an amazing weekend of learning and making connections with Jewish teens from all over Washington state.
There were many different seminars encompassing a wide variety of topics connected to Israel, everything from early Zionism to civil discourse to the Israeli elections. My personal favorite class was Professor Stein’s workshop on the geography and strategic historical beginnings of Israel. He made a map of the Middle East out of tape on the floor and had us stand in the locations of different cities. This was a great interactive, physical model of an otherwise theoretical concept. Additionally, we had to match distances between American cities with distances in the Middle East. This was surprisingly challenging and made me realize how little practical understanding I and other teenagers have of distance. Furthermore, I learned that understanding distance, especially in a place as small as Israel, is a crucial foundation for understanding and engaging in historical and political discussions about Israel. Thus, I planned and ran an activity inspired by this seminar for my USY chapter’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration.
Although, intellectually, this activity made me realize how close everything is in Israel, it wasn’t until I got there myself that I truly understood. I attended Alexander Muss High School in Israel this fall semester, where I had the opportunity to travel all over the country. From our campus in Hod HaSharon, outside Tel Aviv, we were only a few hours’ bus ride away from the green Galilee, Old City of Jerusalem, or expansive Negev desert.
This fall, there were numerous rocket attacks on Israel from both Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. During the barrage of rockets in November, I finally emotionally comprehended the danger of distance. Throughout the days, our phones were constantly buzzing: Tzevah Adom, the “Red Alert” app, sent notifications when each rocket was launched at Israel. I watched as the city, town, and village names edged closer to my dormitory. Although we did not need to run to our bomb shelter, some of my classes were canceled because the teachers could not get to campus. One of my teachers, who lives in southern Israel, told us that her family has 20 seconds to get to their bomb shelter from when the sirens sound. No matter what they are doing — sleeping, showering, anything — they run for their lives. This is the reality for civilians whose enemies are so close.
By experiencing these raids in Israel, I learned the brutal truth of distance in Israel first-hand. But not every American has. It is one thing to read a headline that 400 rockets were launched at Israel from Gaza and another matter entirely to have each of those rockets appear on your phone, getting closer to your house with each minute, and landing in the backyards of people you know.