At first, Hannah Kearney had trouble wrapping her mind around the fact that she was in Israel, especially since she'd spent so much of her time inside a dance studio. But eventually she did take in her surroundings -- the bucolic northernmost portion of the Galilee -- and became as enamored with the scenery as she was with her Israeli dance instructors.
Kearney, a junior at Masterman High School in Philadelphia, was one of 10 Philadelphia teens who traveled to Israel from July 25 to Aug. 4 to take part in the ArtsFest portion of the JCC Maccabi Games.
This marked the first time that the 30-year-old athletic competition -- currently being held in Philadelphia and Springfield, Mass. -- was staged in the Jewish state.
The games have always been centered around sports, but the arts component was added several years ago to offer teens pursuing creative disciplines the chance to be part of the Maccabi experience and hone their craft alongside other Jewish teens from around the world.
Normally, the ArtsFest component -- which requires teens to audition -- takes place at a location in the United States. But organizers decided to move it to Israel to coincide with the inaugural Maccabi Games there, according to Lisa Rothstein, a dance coach who led the Philadelphia contingent.
Since the games were also staged in Philadelphia this year, local organizers decided not to send athletes to compete in Israel.
The teens stayed in kibbutzim in the northernmost part of Israel, near the city of Kiryat Shemonah.
Kearney, the only dancer from the Philly region, said her group spent several days learning an Israeli folk dance and a modern jazz piece. She also performed at the closing ceremonies.
The teen, who hopes to study dance in college, said the training "was extremely grueling. I was very sore and black and blue afterwards."
But she loved working with the teachers and meeting dancers from around the world.
Not all of the dancers appreciated being lumped into a larger athletic competition, she said, but she described it as " fun to be in with the mayhem of sport."
She hopes to return to Israel soon.
The other local participants were: Isaac Adlowitz for broadcasting, Braxton Borine, Jacob Bender, Nolan Gardner and Hunter King for rock band, Alicia Dunn, Marsha Olitsky and Emily Tammara for visual arts and Benjamin Olitsky for culinary arts.