I can still remember the first time I visited the U.S.
I was in high school, and participated in a "Young Ambassadors" delegation. For one month got to travel and see beautiful places, I met people my age, went with them to school and talked about my life in Israel and their lives in the States.
I can still remember what a wonderful experience it was to learn what is different in our lives (they can drive at 16 and go to the Homecoming dance!), what is similar (important things like: music, movies, and McDonald's), and in the end to find that we are more alike than we thought.
Since then, I visited the states many times, but nothing compares to the first time.
When you are a teenager you experience things differently:. You "know everything" and always have an opinion, but also keep seeking new adventures. You are open to learn and explore.What you experience at a young age influences your life and stays with you.
There are many programs that provide an opportunity for teenagers to travel to Israel. They find themselves exposed to the culture, visit new places, meet young people their own age and experience memorable moments. They learn so much about Israel, and while doing that learn even more about themselves. By the end of this trip they go back home with new friendships and after forming a special bond with Israel that stays with them.
This is why those programs are invaluable.
Last month, I had the privilege of participating in a 'send off' event for "Ta'am Yisrael" (Taste of Israel), to wish 170 eighth graders well on their trip to Israel, most of them were about to travel to Israel for the first time. It was wonderful seeing and sharing their excitement, and hoping (knowing) that this first "Taste of Israel" will only "open up" their appetite and keep them wanting more.