By Faiga Marrus
March 15, 2021
Growing up, I studied at Eleanor Kolitz Academy Day School. I loved my years at the day school and learned a lot about my Jewish identity and roots. In school, the land of Israel was spoken about regularly, whether, by my Ivrit (Hebrew) teacher or my Chumash (bible) teacher, the land of Israel was a constant discussion. I would always dream about what the Kotel would look like and what I would be feeling when I would be standing in my home country, Israel.
For the academic year of 2019-2020, I was studying higher education Jewish studies at a Seminary in Melbourne, Australia, until COVID-19 struck Asia and soon after that made its way into the Jewish community in Australia. Within one day, we were all told we would be going home. It turned out that we were going to return to Seminary and my “one year of Torah study abroad” would not be completed. Although I was extremely grateful for the time I had there, I was bothered that I wasn’t able to finish my year of studies and knew there were more learning and adventures I wanted to experience.
In August, Israel announced that they would be welcoming students into Israel. Pre-COVID, I never imagined I would do another gap study program abroad and I also knew that it wouldn’t be financially possible. After much thinking, I knew I would need some help if I wanted to make this dream of mine happen. I decided to reach out to the Jewish Federation of San Antonio to see if they were able to help support me and make it possible for me to visit Israel and study there for one semester. They were extremely generous. Federation open-handedly helped me make this “dream” become reality.
Landing at Ben Gurion airport for my very first time was something unique, something I have never felt before, I felt a sense of home, a place where we as the Jewish people belong. Many people clapped and cheered as we all arrived home.
I learned incredible new things while I was in Israel, about the locals, the country, and from all the incredible people. I had the privilege to visit many historical sites that were noted in the Chumash (Bible) such as the graves of our patriarchs, matriarchs, and the holy ancient city of Shiloh where the Mishkan (tabernacle) was built. I enjoyed every hour I spent learning Torah and exploring the country.
One of the moments I will never forget was visiting the Western Wall. I went my first Friday night out of quarantine to pray at the Kotel. Shabbat had just begun, and I was able to hear the beautiful chants of the Shabbat melodies. As I slowly walked down the steps entering the Kotel area, I was in utter shock. I was finally standing right in front of the outer wall of what once was the holy temple that I had always wished to see. This is the place that all Jewish People gather from near and far. No matter what race or observance level, everyone comes to let out their tears to God and pray for what they need. I was able to have a heartfelt and deep moment with Hashem and pray for the world. I also thanked God for all the good and blessings he has given me, even in these uncertain and confusing times. I am so grateful for these past months in Israel that I experienced. The memories will last with me forever.
The fund that supported Faiga’s first trip to Israel is the Linda and Stanley Blend Endowment, in memory of Jake Blend and Margaret and Morty Freedman, held at the Jewish Federation’s Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies of San Antonio.
Mr. Blend shared his joy at helping Faiga make her trip, “Linda and I are excited that [our endowment] fund we created years ago and continue to enhance was able to sponsor Faiga’s experience in Israel. Hopefully, her experience will encourage other San Antonio youth to visit Israel. Nothing ensures Jewish continuity more than a trip to Israel.”
If you would like information about how you can apply for a similar experience or create an endowment to provide camperships, scholarships, or other life enrichment experiences for our San Antonio youth, contact Beth Keough, Director of Philanthropy at 210.302.6813 | firstname.lastname@example.org OR Janet Irwine, CFO, at 210.302.6963 | email@example.com
*This article was featured in the print Jewish Journal Passover edition