My First Trip to Israel and AZYF
Date: May 28, 2008 09:27PM
My first trip to Israel was on the summer of ’72 when my father sent me there as a Bar Mitzvah present. A lot of things happened and I remember it well.
The American Zionist Youth Foundation ran the trip, which was a Conservative organization. The name of the tour was Israel Summer Happening. From what I remember I was in ISH 9 or 12. I think that Birthright Israel is a modern day outgrowth or replacement of the AZYF.
They made us bring our tefillin (which I never used before the trip and someone actually stole my phylacteries during the trip) and they assigned a mentor we had to call Rebbe to be our “guiding light.” I found it to be very alien to the way I was brought up. I didn’t cotton much to this way of doing business and I felt I had enough rigor and structure from my father and also from public school. (Later on I had to deal with a mashpiah when I was in Chabad and my mentor there was Rabbi Shea Hecht.)
Now we were pretty wild kids. We certainly weren’t demure yeshiva bochrim (“seminary students”) and I was a marital arts practitioner. I used to spar with some of the people and one of the counselors didn’t like it. He actually challenged me to a fistfight. But someone who was a purple belt in Karate challenged that counselor to a fight and well karma has away of getting back to you.
One day, we were over in the Old City by the Jaffa Gate and a friend of mine and I who were both weightlifters, wore tight shirts and an Arab looked at both of us, grabbed us under the armpits and threw both of us around. I was dumbfounded and so was he. I was afraid of getting killed by the Arabs.
We did a tour of Gadna, which is Israel’s military training program for children too young to be in the regular army or Tzahal. We had to wake up around 4 AM to go to this.
One day, I almost fell asleep on my feet and the leader of the unit asked me, “What for are you waiting, Richard?” to which I replied “Mashaich!” He laughed and said, “Yes!” And I actually like the program. I was a physical kid and it enhanced my marital arts background.
During my next trip in ’74, we had a chance to have an exchange program and deal with local Israelis. I saw this pretty girl and said to myself, “I hope I get her!” I did and we corresponded for some years after until I lost track of her.
When I came back from Israel, my father asked me questions about the trip and he got mad at me for some reason and he said, “No, I wanted you to come back a changed person,” or words to that effect. So, in his eyes the trip was a failure.
I went back to Israel 4 more times. I have discussed the rest of the trips already except my 2nd trip.