This year I had the privilege of partaking in two life-changing trips to Israel. In April I went on the March of the Living, a Holocaust education trip to Israel and Poland, with my classmates as well as thousands of other Jewish teenagers and adults. We were accompanied by Holocaust survivors who travelled with us through Poland, visiting the horrific sites from their childhood, and then to Israel. The transition from Poland to Israel was a life changing experience which gave me a new appreciation of the Jewish homeland and made me even more proud to be Jewish. We went from visiting the sites in which Six Million Jews’ lives were brutally taken from them, to the Jewish homeland that is now a world leader in innovation, technology and healthcare.
As we landed in Israel, I was overwhelmed with many emotions of gratitude and pride. I truly believe that the March of the Living made me more mature and gave me a new outlook on my life. After seeing such horrors in Poland, and then travelling to Israel, I gained more appreciation for my life and even further developed my identity as a young Jewish teenager. Though I was extremely sad to leave Israel when the trip came to an end, I was thrilled to be able to go back the next month to participate in yet another life-changing trip to Israel, participating in the Maccabiah Games on the Jr. Women’s Canadian Basketball Team this past July.
The Maccabiah Games were one of the best experiences I have had in my life. I got to represent Canada, playing the sport I love, surrounded by my closest friends as well as Jewish teenagers and adults from 80 countries all over the world. Throughout this trip, my already heightened love and appreciation for Israel and Judaism continued to grow. I felt tremendous pride not only to represent my country, but also to represent the Jewish people throughout Canada. Not only did I grow closer to many Jewish athletes on the Canadian delegation, I also had the chance to meet and become friends with other Jewish teenage athletes from all over the world.
Though on the court the other countries were our opponents, when we stepped off the court, our countries no longer divided us; we were united through our love for sports and our Judaism. As a graduate of The Leo Baeck Day School, and a current CHAT student, I have been surrounded by Jews my whole entire life. However, this experience was extraordinary as I was able to be in Israel and surrounded by Jewish teenagers of all different backgrounds. There is no feeling like being in Israel; it is a country with such energy, Zionism, pride and integrity. During the opening ceremonies in Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem as the speakers called out the Canadian delegation to the stage I was overcome with pride and excitement, as well as when I stood at center court to take the jump ball in the start of each game. Being able to share my experience and pride to be Jewish with the thousands of other athletes made my experience all the more special and unforgettable. I can confidently say that participating in the Maccabiah games this past summer was one of the best experiences I have ever had that gave me tremendous pride for Canada, Israel and Judaism.
I am so fortunate to have been able to experience both of these unforgettable and eye-opening trips. Though I already understood how lucky I was, both of these experiences only made me more grateful to be living in Canada as a young Jewish adult. I do not take for granted being able to able to belong to Holy Blossom Temple or attend the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto. I am extremely grateful and proud to be Jewish and hope to embark on similar Israeli experiences in the future.
By Grace Valihora.
Before the excitement begins and the friendships form, the Maccabai Games can be quite intimidating. It can be worrisome to go on a three week trip with people you have never met before or face people in a swim meet that have competed in the Olympics. The food isn’t always to your liking and competing internationally at such a high level can be overwhelming. But after the initial shock of being in a situation like no other, the only way to describe the Maccabai Games is to say that it was truly amazing.
You not only get to compete at a high level, but also tour around Israel, make a ton of new friends and meet people from all around the world. Even though the desert was incredibly hot, it was so cool getting to see the country. During the five day Israel experience we went from Caesarea, to the Western Wall, to Masada, to rafting down the Jordan river. My favorite part, despite the almost fifty degree weather, was getting to go to the Dead Sea. Putting mud all over my body and getting to float in water that is literally holding you up was a truly unique and incredible experience. As a swimmer, I could only wish that all the pools we swam in were like that. The Olympic pool in Netanya didn’t have the same kind of water but was still incredible. The water and the team felt fast . The more we trained, the more excited everybody seemed to be to compete.
Before the competition, there obviously had to be an opening ceremony. Walking on to a stage representing your country with an entire stadium of people around you is something that can’t be put into words. Of course there was a long wait before, but that time was spent going around to different delegations and trading pins. Argentina, South Africa, Hong Kong, Australia, Brazil, Great Britain and Russia are only some of the countries that I met people from and traded pins with – a forever reminder of the games.
Following the ceremonies was the big competition. Everyone was nervous, about the swimming and about the fact that the Israeli and American teams seemed much bigger than ours. But we all went in confidently, and it paid off. In the four days of racing I managed to swim personnel best times in all of the six events that I competed in and came home with three bronze medals that were won in relays. This competition was not only successful swimming wise but also created a much stronger bond between all of our teammates. Whether it was a good or bad race, everyone was there to show their support and encourage Team Canada. The strengthened friendships definitely made the last week of our stay much more fun.
With the stress of competition over, we had time to go watch other sports, hang out in the Junior Village and see more of Israel. Before the closing ceremonies, we had time to hit up a market in Jerusalem where we tried authentic Jerusalem food and had plenty of opportunities to buy souvenirs. It was definitely sad leaving Israel and saying goodbye to all the amazing friends I had met. But I couldn’t help smiling as I got to tell my parents all about the trip that I will never forget.
I would sincerely recommend to anyone who is Jewish to take up a sport so they can be a part of Team Canada. Or to anyone who is already an athlete to sign themselves up for the next games. This was definitely an experience of a lifetime, and I hope to do it again in another four years.