Fellowship Fosters Community Amidst War in Israel
By: Josh Jury, NFTY Teen
As a community organizer, what’s a pressing need for our community around Israel, and how can we call people to take action and repair the world?
This is the question posed to those of us participating in the Israel Youth Organizing Fellowship. This fellowship is a staple of the Heller High Fall ‘23 semester and a crucial part of creating our close-knit semester community. For those of us studying on the Hod Hasharon campus in Israel this meant occasional workshops with community organizers and several big Shabbatonim.
One of the fellowship seminars involved a weekend of public narrative workshops on storytelling, finding our inner voice, and using our stories to inspire action in the areas for which we are torchbearers. In addition to being full of lifelong lessons, and conversation around Israeli culture and social justice, the fellowship also had moments of music and storytelling. One Kabbalat Shabbat dinner was followed by a fabrengen. It was a night surrounded by eating good food, singing songs, reading poetry, and telling stories.
On October 6th the Heller High community was on Kibbutz Gezer for Simchat Torah dancing and singing. And on October 7th we woke up to the sirens alerting us to go to a bomb shelter at our hostel in Jerusalem. The war flipped our reality upside down. From that point on we were uncertain what the Heller program would look like moving forward and questions arose about how we would continue to cultivate our special community. Luckily for us, we learned the fellowship would remain a constant and would not be going away anytime soon.
When I arrived back to the States and saw the extended invitation to attend the fellowship weekend in Atlanta alongside the Yallah Israel teens, it was an easy decision to make. The eight Heller kids who were able to join had an opportunity to not just reunite, but open our community to the Yallah Israel groups and connect under the fellowship we’re all a part of.
Once we arrived at Camp Coleman our awesome fellowship leader, Bryan Oren (Director of Youth Organizing, Israel), greeted us all with a smiling face. There was this immediate warmth and an energetic vibe to the event for people gathering together under the common link to Israel. A place that is close to heart for all of us, and a place that has been going through an unimaginable and horrific reality for the past two weeks at war with Hamas. The Heller community held each other especially close for the bittersweet gathering. Our hearts breaking for Israel, the lost time at the place we were supposed to be, but simultaneously feeling grateful to be back with our friends.
We arrived for a beautiful Shabbat outside in Coleman’s nature. We sang and we hugged and heard stories first-hand from Israelis who have experienced the war and who spoke on how it affects our Jewish community. The next day we heard from local community organizers from the Atlanta area and got an in-depth view of Israel history as well as more instruction on youth organizing and forming movements around social justice. We had a community organizing session about storytelling led by Logan Zinman Gerber (Director, Organizing and Mobilizing, Youth), and we focused on a plethora of social issues in Israel. The night ended with torchbearer tekes and havdalah. We each lit a ceremonial candle and spoke about what we were torchbearers for. The torch is the emblem of the fellowship and symbolically stands for leading a movement and pursuing social justice. A key part of the fellowship is organizing a community project around our passions in Israel and what we wish to be torchbearers for. As the weekend came to an end, we were happy to know the Israel Youth Organizing Fellowship is truly just beginning.