Hand in Hand: The Israel Experience

June 28, 2012
By , Brooklyn, NY
“But may I just say that this has been, not just the best summer of my life, but also the best time I’ve ever had, and the happiest I’ve ever been.“ As awkward as it may be to quote my own journal, it is very hard for me to find the words express my sentiments after this past summer. With hundreds of programs out there for the summer before junior year, the many trips to Israel seem pretty similar, no matter how unique they claim to be. And for some reason, I chose Yad B’Yad, an Israel travel program that groups together high school students and young men and women with physical or mental disabilities. To be honest, I had no idea what I was getting my self into, and I truly believe it was the best decision I have ever made. Not only did Yad B’Yad provide me with friendships stronger than I would ever have imagined, but it truly revolutionized my outlooks towards life and the world.

I always thought myself to be pretty affiliated with Yachad (the organization responsible for creating Yad B’Yad), whether through school or my family, and I always enjoyed being involved with it, but only to a certain extent. I often felt that the high school involvement was just a way for everyone to show off his or her good qualities, something even I was occasionally a culprit of. So I never really imagined myself spending an entire summer with Yachad. But after a nation-wide Yachad seminar, the past summer’s Yad B’Yad-ers had me convinced: I had to go on Yad B’Yad. And so I signed up for a summer program about which I knew almost nothing.

Despite the immense amount of people who assured me that my summer would surpass all others, it took me up until the first day to understand their certainty. With a combination of about 40 high school students, 30 Yachad members, and 20 counselors, we were a pretty large and diversified group. But within the first day, we all felt as if we had been the closest of friends for years. Any barrier between high school student and Yachad member was totally severed, to the point where I could hardly differentiate. Truth is, when meeting someone with disabilities, people tend to have trouble getting passed the disability part. But I learned to focus solely on the abilities and created bonds with some of the most intelligent and introspective people I have ever met. Together, we were able to enjoy a summer program that activity-wise, was no different than any other. We managed to tour Israel in a way I had thought impossible for many. Have you ever watched a wheelchair-bound man repel down a mountain? It’s a sight worth seeing. For five weeks, we ate together, roomed together, and traveled through the most beautiful land in the world together. Never did a boring moment occur, and never did my smile falter.

I find it difficult to pinpoint what exactly about this summer impacted me to such an extent. But I know that, through Yad B’Yad, I truly learned to stop judging people so quickly, whoever they may be. I learned that happiness can easily be achieved, if you just know how to channel it. And very importantly, I learned to love myself, which isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to do. And now, I invest a substantial amount of my time in Yachad because, although almost none of my family or friends seem to understand it, I can reach this pinnacle of happiness with Yachad that seems a lot harder to reach anywhere else. This summer spent on Yad B’Yad opened up a whole new world for me, one in which everyone is perfect because

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