Though it has been an amazing two weeks, as they say, all good things must come to an end. But I think I can say on behalf of the entire Diller alumni 2011 group, that our trip was a great success and an incredible experience. We are all so grateful to have been given the opportunity to carry on this program and continue our own person bond with Ashkelon.
We began our last day in Ashkelon volunteering at Beit Canada Ethiopian absorption center once again. As one of our favorite places to volunteer, we requested one last stop there before the trip’s end. It was great to see the kids again and spend the morning playing outside and teaching new games. We then spent our last lunch together in downtown Ashkelon on a search for the best shawafel (half falafel and half shawarma) in town- which was found and devoured. Though the group is excited to get back to hamburgers and sushi, we will miss the amazing shawarma and falafel Israel always has to offer. After lunch we headed back to our host families to pack and relax before the long journey home. Our final farewell was held at Baltimore Park where our Israeli friends met us for a final thank you and goodbye. After many hugs and even some tears, those who were departing boarded the bus and headed to the airport.
Overall, this trip was everything I, and the rest of the group, had hoped. We were able to accomplish so much in the two short weeks we were here. Spending countless hours volunteering with different types of people and places, we were able to reach and help so many. From sorting potatoes to painting a mural to helping in kindergarten classes, we enjoyed it all. It felt incredible to give back to this great Ashkelon community and show the support all the Baltimore feels for this city. Not only did we accomplish so much volunteering, but we helped to build our personal connections as well. Being back in the home hospitality and with our Israeli friends, we were able to reconnect and strengthen bonds formed over three years ago. We know now, just as we did three years ago, that we will always have a second home in Ashkelon. We have been able to witness first hand the amazing strength of this Baltimore/Ashkelon partnership and why it is one to be envied. We hope that we have been able to further this growth through our program and represent Baltimore to the best of our abilities. I have also witnessed the growth of each participant individually as a leader. We all learned a great deal during the course of this trip about how to truly be a young Jewish leader. Skills and knowledge we will all be bringing home with us to Baltimore.
In our final meeting of the trip, we took time to reflect over the past two weeks and discuss some of our favorite moments. I would like to share these moments with all of you.
Sarah Saxon: While at the special needs school a few of us walked into a classroom while they were doing an activity. Sarah described one little boy named Daniel who was crying on the floor, unable to be consoled. After class, the children we allowed to come outside to the playground and play with us. After just a few minutes of being outside and playing with him, Daniel was smiling, happy, running around and having fun. The one of most amazing moments for Sarah was knowing that she had brought that smile to that child’s face and helped brighten his day.
Jen Arman: Though Jen explained she had doubts when deciding to join the trip, she said this trip was the highlight of her entire summer. She also discussed how strong the bond between the nine of us as a group became. She was able to form close friendships with people she wasn’t able to get to know on our original Diller trip.
Leah Goldman: When painting the mural at the school for special needs children, the best moment, Leah explained, was going back to the school the second day and seeing the faces of the children light up when they saw us. Not only did they remember us all, but they were so excited to see us and play with us again. It felt amazing to see how much the mural and everything we did touched to both the children and the teachers.
Nathan Shulkin: Nathan’s favorite part was seeing how much we grew and were able to learn during the course of this trip. Through our many ups and downs as a group, we were able to learn so much from our experiences and that is one of the most important things. We learned skills to deal with situations that we would never have gotten the opportunity to discover had it not been for this trip.
Jeremy Finifter: One of Jeremy’s favorite moments was going to the Dead Sea and Ein Gedi. It was such an incredible and fun day. Not only are those places amazing in themselves, but he said it was so great to see each and every person happy and enjoying themselves so much together as a group.
Emily Karsh: Living in Rotem’s house was the favorite part for Emily. She found the home hospitality so amazing, experiencing how warm and open Rotem’s and all of the families were to us during our stay here in Ashkelon.
Philip Applebaum: Having a group of only 9 participants, our group was able to get so much closer then every before. Phil explained his favorite part was having such a small group so that we were able have this new bond and get to know each other at a new deeper level.
Eric Bloom: Eric mentioned the bond he was able to form with the families while in the home hospitality, and specifically with Rotem’s older brother with special needs, Mano. Eric loved how close he was able to become with Mano and the families and how comfortable we all felt in their homes.
Diana Peisach: One of my favorite moments was during our weekend in the North. With all of the Americans and Israelis sleeping in the hostile for the night, we decided to hang out outside and play games before going to bed. As we sat outside and played silly games, it was as if we were back in Diller and nothing had changed. I loved the moment when I realized that even though we had all been separated for three years, being together again was like nothing had changed and no time had passed. It was amazing to see how close and happy we could all be together and how strong our bond truly is.
I would like to thank everyone who helped to make this trip possible. It has been an incredible experience for us all. The end of this trip does not mark the end of us as a group nor our involvement with the partnership. We hope to take everything we have learned and our plans for the future back with us to Baltimore and continue the growth of the partnership. Thank you again, and see you in Baltimore
and the rest of the Diller alumni group