I was involved in USY in my teens first, as a member, then as a vice-president of my chapter which followed a year as president. I then went on to be on the regional board of Philadelphia Region USY and went to Israel in 1969 with USY Israel Pilgrimage -- a trip which changed my life.
I got to go on this trip with kids from all over the US and Canada and we lived together, prayed together, and ate together and toured Israel together for seven weeks. Our home base was in Jerusalem at a small hotel on the corner of Hanivi’im and Strauss Streets called the “San Remo.” I am still in touch with almost all of those who went on that trip that summer. We even had three reunions where we brought pictures and memorabilia from the trip.
I still have the carry-on bag that El Al Airlines gave us as a gift. It’s still filled with napkins from restaurants, ticket stubs from the cable car at Rosh Hanikra, and from the Israeli version of “My Fair Lady” that we saw in Tel Aviv. There are soaps and brochures from different tourist attractions and places from the Bible we visited. I even have a Kellogg’s Corn Flakes box in Hebrew! I also saved a plastic bag that held peaches with “Sde Boker” printed on it. That’s the Kibbutz in the Negev that David Ben Gurion established and lived in until his death in 1973.
Since that trip, I’ve been back to Israel nine times and each time I get off the plane, I feel as if I am home. It’s an incredible feeling. I’ve been to other countries and I have to say that when you visit a foreign country you taste different things, you smell different smells, you hear different sounds and you see different sights. In Israel you do all of that plus, you feel something so wonderful, you can’t describe it in words.
If you’ve been there, only you know what I mean. If you haven’t been there yet, keep it on your list of to do’s. I guarantee, you won’t be disappointed.
Happy 66th Birthday to you, Israel. We love you!!
Cantor Kenny Ellis