Eighteen members of the Satell Teen Fellowship for Leadership and Social Activism traveled to Israel this summer on an 11-day trip to enhance their Israel education and advocacy skills. In an atmosphere of camaraderie, teens explored social and political issues, in addition to the complex relationship between Israel, America and the Middle East. Mission participants blogged about their adventures to friends and family. To learn more about their experiences, see: www.gratz.edu/default.aspx?p=7887 .
The Satell Teen Fellowship for Leadership and Social Activism is an innovative leadership-development program for motivated and inspired Jewish teenagers who want to make a difference in the community. Application deadline for the 2010 class of Satell Fellows is Oct. 7. Call the Satell office at 215-635-7300, Ext. 128, or visit: www.gratz.edu/satell  for an application and more information. The program is a partnership between the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the Jewish Community High School of Gratz College and the Satell Family Foundation.
Here is just a snapshot of participants' reactions:
Eric Goldstein: "Today, I have kissed the ground of my ancestors, and have stood atop biblical hills and gazed upon the ocean and the Jordanian border in one view. All of my Hebrew-school teachers who described the smallness of Israel -- and every map comparing Israel to New Jersey or some other state -- could not have prepared me for this. It is an incredible and unforgettable view -- one which I have tried to capture on film so that I can show my parents and friends upon my return home. The problem is that it is not the same as the feeling of gazing across an entire country while barely rotating your head, while listening to gunshots from a valley beneath you (at an army base in the distance) and while still tasting the earth on your lips. I feel more connected to the land I stand on today then the land I have stood on most of my life."
Yuval Yarden: "Today, we joined participants from Acharai on a hike up Mount Herzl to celebrate the culmination of their program. Acharai trains high school students for their upcoming army service through discussion and simulation of the social, emotional, physical and spiritual challenges which they will encounter.
"The Acharai participants welcomed us warmly, and together, we began our 10-kilometer hike up Mount Herzl. Some 3,800 teenagers created a 2-mile-long line. Oh, and by the way, we were carrying 150-pound stretchers and 3 liters of water on our backs.
"Three hours of intense hiking, running and carrying stretchers brought us much closer to each other, and to the Israelis. When all the participants arrived, we used our last bit of energy to run to the top of the mountain as a group. This experience brought me to tears."
Natan Koloski: "In accordance with our mission of tikkun olam ('repairing the world'), the Satell Teen Fellows went to Yemin Orde, a children's village near Haifa. This youth village combines the aspects of an orphanage with those of an institution of higher education to give impoverished children a chance to succeed. Most of the residents are Ethiopian, and many are Russian. Yemin Orde is a special place for us to visit because we were able to meet one of its benefactors, Mark Solomon, earlier this year in Philadelphia. Solomon, who is a good friend of our own Mr. Satell (also a supporter of Yemin Orde, of course) dedicated the entire graduate housing area.
"Upon arrival, we met Racheli, an Ethiopian immigrant who explained to us all about the village. We toured the residential facility, the multi-denominational synagogue and a replica of an Ethiopian hut. After that we gathered in a circle and announced our names, favorite food and where we lived -- trying our best to speak Hebrew, while our counterparts did their best in English. The unbelievable experience of seeing something as helpful to childhood development as Yemin Orde caused us to leave with a warm feeling in our hearts."
Aytan Cohen: "What the entire group has learned is that we are all part of each other's Israel experience. For some of us, it is a second or third visit to Israel, and the common sights to see have become a norm. For others, like myself, every ancient ruin, every old temple and every street sign is picture-worthy. Every new sight provides new feelings and emotions.
"My grandfather never had the chance to go to Israel. I was very close to him, and I have always carried around his Magen David around my neck as a symbol of my own Judaism and my connection to him.
"My journey here is not only for myself. It is for my whole family -- past, present and future. Everyone told me this experience would change my life and me. I can walk around with a different feeling in my heart and in my mind. I can speak with even more passion about Israel when the occasion presents itself. I don't know how my feelings towards life and Judaism will change on this trip. I do know that after less than 24 hours, I am a different kind of person. I am a different kind of man."