Adina & Elias Toby
All four of our children have now attended TRY and each one has been affected in wonderful yet different ways. They have made deep friendships, gained self-confidence, were positively influenced by a staff of outstanding role models and accepted the joy in Tikkun Olam.
From all our perspectives, the very best part of TRY is its Israel Core Course with its emphasis in field-based learning. The students live their Jewish history from our biblical roots through the Diaspora, Zionism, the Shoah and ultimately through the establishment of the State of Israel. They walk in Avraham’s footsteps in the dessert, follow the train tracks from Auschwitz to Birkenau, stand in silence with their Israeli brethren as sirens honour the memories of our fallen soldiers, and dance joyously in the streets of Jerusalem on Yom Ha’atzmaut. They see, feel, hear, touch and even taste all of Israel and our immense Jewish culture in a nurturing and safe environment. Everything is Sababa.
We are so happy to have given this unique experience to our children and recommend it to everyone without reservation. Our only regret is that we have run out of kids to send… but pray that grandkids will be there some day soon!
Debbie & Sol Kempinski
“If we can’t help Jewish teenagers get to Israel, we’ll have a generation of Jews that doesn’t know Israel,” says Nadav Kempinski. Although Nadav is only 16 and a junior at the San Diego Jewish Academy, he concerns himself with the future of the Jewish people and the connection between American Jews and Israelis. This was a major reason for Nadav’s spending the spring of 2015 in Israel on TRY. “On TRY, you live in the land and learn the land. You need four months at least for that,” he says of TRY’s semester-long format.
“TRY allowed me to really get to know Jerusalem [where the program is based]. It makes it feel like it’s your street and your city when you stay for that length of time instead of just a couple of weeks or a summer,” Nadav explains.
Nadav’s parents Debbie and Sol Kempinski are grateful for all the opportunities TRY afforded their son to grow in terms of his Jewish identity and practice. They are also thankful for the scholarship assistance they received so that Nadav could participate while they were also trying to swing college tuition for his two older sisters.
“We are very committed to the Jewish community and to the Conservative movement, but middle class families such as ours must rely on the generosity of the Jewish community to be able to send our kids to Jewish day school and Jewish camp, and also to Israel programs like TRY,” says Sol. Nadav brought home all that he learned and experienced on TRY to everything he does at home, be it school, his United Synagogue Youth chapter, camp, or simply advocating for Israel and encouraging other teens to visit there.
Ilya Rake – 2015 TRY Alum
Ilya Rake came home to Philadelphia from TRY a changed teenager, and that was just fine with his parents. In fact, they couldn’t have been more pleased with the ways in which their son had grown during his semester in Israel. “The experience was simply life changing for him. He always had a strong Jewish identity, but TRY took it up to the next level,” says Ilya’s mom Leza Raffel.
Now an 18-year-old senior at Abington Senior High School, Ilya also considers his TRY experience a turning point. “Thanks to TRY, I got more interested in Judaism, learned more Hebrew, started keeping kosher and wearing a kippah a lot,” said Ilya, who is active at a local Reform congregation, Old York Road Temple – Beth Am. Every Sunday, Ilya assists the temple’s Hebrew school teaching staff in preparing sixth graders for their b’nai mitzvah ceremonies.
Ilya, who was adopted from Russia at age 13 months, used his camera to help him process his experiences while on TRY. Most notably, he made a moving short film inspired by TRY’s trip to Poland. “The trip was a highlight for me. Being there was very intense, and I learned a lot about the Holocaust and Jewish life in Poland that I didn’t know before,” he says. Filmmaking continues to take up a lot of Ilya’s time and attention. His talent in this area has secured him early-action admission to Ithaca College’s filmmaking program, as well as the Rod Serling scholarship. Leza is also confident that Ilya’s semester on TRY made him an attractive applicant to his first-choice school. Both Ilya and his parents appreciate how TRY gave him the rare opportunity to get a taste of independent college living before graduating from high school. Ilya gained important dorm-life experiences and time management in a supportive environment. Ilya became more connected not only to Judaism, but also to Israel. He had not been to Israel before going on TRY, and now he looks forward to visiting again many times. “Actually, I have a plan to retire to Israel,” Ilya shares.
Ilya’s mother, Leza, sums it up nicely, “TRY is an amazing immersion into the culture of another country. It’s a life experience you can’t get sitting in an American or Canadian high school classroom.”
Ilya is active in USY and is a long time Camp Ramah Poconos camper. Ilya also volunteers with children with disabilities through the Friendship Circle.
Ilana Stein – 2015 TRY Alum – Thankful for Finding Her Voice
Ilana Stein returned to New York’s Abraham Joshua Heschel School from TRY 2015 a different person in key ways. Ilana, whose mother is Israeli, had visited Israel before going on TRY as a 10th grader, but somehow this experience in Israel had a different effect on her. “I have TRY to thank for the fact that I am more confident and am willing to put myself out there, including speaking in public,” Ilana explains.
She believes this newfound confidence comes from different strengths she gained while on TRY. Her Jewish identity got stronger from her participation in daily tefillah (prayer) and Shabbat and holiday observance. Her Zionist identity was bolstered by an enriched knowledge of Jewish history. Her sense of independence and agency came from her learning to be self-reliant while being away from her family for a semester.
Ilana doesn’t just talk about the changes she perceives in herself. She puts them into action. “I am now able to lead a group discussion in my classroom. I participate more in my classes, because TRY made me believe in myself more, and I learned that I am capable of achieving a whole lot,” she says.
“I am now confident to speak in front of my whole school about Israel. I have always been extremely passionate about Israel, but before TRY I wasn’t ready to put myself out there and speak about such a complex country.”