Leah Pennisi-Glaser writes:
I’m in a pair of borrowed size nine trainers (six sizes too large) and wearing an oversized black denim jacket. This is wholly inappropriate attire for my location, a scorching hot Middle-Eastern desert. There are also hornets, swarms of them, and twice as big as their English counterparts buzzing around my face. By rights, this should not be a recipe for success, yet somehow I’m beaming from ear to ear with the rest of my LJY-Netzer קהילה community.
Really, it’s an odd setup: three and a half weeks, touring Israel, hardly the safest country in the world, with forty-nine hormonal teens looked after, supposedly, by students a few years older. Whilst a strict policy that the tour experience would be sans alcohol, smoking and drugs, my lapsed Catholic Italian father still needed a stiff drink when he heard about the planned trip.
We all arrived from the far corners of Britain: Birmingham to Bristol, Sheffield to suburban London with an interesting range of socio-economic backgrounds. Bar our Judaism the only thing that really united us seemed to be our left-leaning politics. Any Tory present was a closet Tory. Despite having limited initial common ground, our chemistry bubbled explosively as the tour settled down, just like the experiment so many of us had conducted wrongly in our GCSE classes. However, instead of the end product being a rotten egg smell, the end product was a strong, group friendship (we even had a meet-up on the 20th August, less than two weeks after we all bid our farewells at Luton).
LJY has deservingly earned a reputation for being the “lefty tour,” the other options are apparently becky or frum. One of the first things we were told by the leaders is that, “LYJ Netzer is a socialist, feminist, vegetarian, Zionist youth movement.”
Great, I thought, this is going to be a ball of laughs. I’m as liberal as the next woman, but PC politics make me as irritated as the tour’s daily mosquito bites did.
Despite my initial reservations, I found it pleasingly ironic how the world always sees Israel in a reactionary light, but everyone, especially our leaders were staunch, leftist hippies. However, they preferred to describe themselves as, ‘social activists’. So, contrary to the views of my non-Jewish friends that I was embarking on a brain-washing tour, LJY was very clear that they, “wanted you to feel something, but that something can be anything.” This is where you could potentially have returned from the experience leaving your Zionism behind.
Lectures were an important feature of the tour. They ranged over talks from Jews, Druze, Muslims and LGBT activists. My own particular highlight was the visit to the Western Wall. There I felt I was in direct touch with the history of my people. Afterwards, the Women of the Wall seminar gave me an educational subtext to the visit. Connecting with my history was reinforced by our visit to Yad Vashem , an experience that will live with me forever and one that no book can so forcefully deliver...
Of course, there were more light-hearted activities such as trips to the Dead Sea where a couple of us tried to float to Jordan (oddly enough, we didn’t make it) and desert camel rides (not to be repeated). All together, I think LJY stuck the right balance between recreational and educational projects. We all left the country with our individual views on Israel. Certainly, in my case they are less biased and more informed that my non-Jewish friends’ opinions on the state that they were so suspicious about me visiting. They, in fact, would have greatly benefitted from such a trip.