Photos by Abba Richman
Planning this fun day wasn’t easy. It seemed that every time there was a siren or Code Red alert, another teen cancelled. They’re nervous. And their parents re-thought their permission. In the end 70 teens from Oraita in Ofakim and Makom BaLev in Sderot and Kiryat Gat headed north early on Wednesday morning July 16.
The day began with a warning siren in Kiryat Gat. The teens all got off the bus and took cover. They knew what to do. The most experienced among them – from Sderot – made sure that everyone’s smiles returned.
First stop: Amuka in the northern Galilee. This is the tomb of Rabbi Yonathan ben Uziel. This special location is known for segulot (charms that defy logic). Perfect place for heartfelt davening and saying Tehilim. Also not a bad place for breakfast.
Second stop: Horseback riding at the Bat Ya’ar Ranch in the Birya Forest outside of Tsefat. At an altitude of 800 meters above sea level (over 2,600 feet), this was quite a change from the desert climate and surroundings the teens are used to. Chaim Pelzner, OU Israel director of programming met them with a few words about the unity of Am Yisrael.
Third stop: Rafting on the Jordan River. Even though the river is at its low point in the summer, the teens were at their high point on the water.
Return at midnight: Happy. Tired. Energized from a wonderful day.
“Our ‘day away’ in the north was everything we hoped,” says Racheli Ninio, director of training and content for Makom BaLev. “The kids had a great time. The reality of their life ‘down south’ faded away for the day. Everyone had fun which was enriched by moments of faith and friendship.”
These teens who have been dodging rockets for months couldn’t get over the organization and planning the OU Israel staff put into their special day. “They kept thanking us,” Ninio says. “Their gratitude and appreciation showed on their faces.”
“Several of the kids were amazed at the beauty and peacefulness of Israel’s north. They were also delighted not to have to be in shelters at all during the day. It wasn’t easy for some of them to convince their parents to let them join us,” Ninio says. “But in the end these kids who have been sitting in shelters had big smiles on their faces.”