An Amazing First Experience in Israel

By Lauren Vegas, Heilicher 7th Grader

In December, I had the privilege of going to Israel on a Herzl Camp family trip. I really enjoyed being in an environment where almost everybody was Jewish and spoke Hebrew. Outside of school I have never heard people speak modern Hebrew, or had a chance to use my Hebrew very much.

It was also awesome to be in Israel on Hanukah, where we could see many hanukiot on the streets. On the first night of Hanukah we were on Ben Yehuda Street and we saw a giant hanukiah and a lot of people singing Hanukah songs and dancing in the street. Many of the bakeries were selling sufganiyot. We also saw some people singing Christmas carols because it was also Christmas Eve.

Later that week, when we were at a hotel by the Dead Sea, all of the kids in our group went swimming at 9:00pm and we lit the hanukiah and sang the blessings as we lined up along the edge of the pool. I have never lit the candles outdoors, never mind from inside a pool! It was especially meaningful juxtaposed to when we were in Paris later in the week and we lit the candles in private in our hotel room and then blew them out quickly.

One of my favorite places we visited in Israel was a secret bullet factory that was open from 1945-1949. Everybody who worked there was in their early twenties, and some a little younger—the youngest was 17. These kids lived on a kibbutz and everyday would go down underground and work in the factory for 12 hours a day and nobody knew, not even their parents or spouses.

The British had an army base right next to the bullet factory, but the factory workers still managed to keep things secret. The bullet factory was constructed strategically under a bakery and a laundry room using the noise and smells to cover up the factory work. They also made it so that the British helped them without knowing it. The factory "borrowed" electricity from the army base, and the Jews washed the British Army's laundry so the machines could run and no one would hear the factory below.

One of the tour guides' grandfather was one of the kids working there, which I thought was so cool and made it seem even more real.

During the trip, one of my friends (a former Heilicher classmate) became a Bat Mitzvah, and I thought about my upcoming Bat Mitzvah and how cool it would be to have it in Israel. I really enjoyed being there with my family and many of my Heilicher and Herzl friends. Overall, going to Israel was amazing and made everything seem so much more real. I am so fortunate to have had this opportunity.

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