A Letter to Tel Yehudah from a Recent Judaean Olah

I received the letter below this past summer from a Tel Yehudah alumna and former staff member who made aliyah just over a year ago.  Yarden Elhanan, originally from Riverdale, New York, is now living and working as an architect in Jerusalem and helping to continue to design and build the State of Israel.  Her letter reminded me, once again, of the powerful ways in which Tel Yehudah and Young Judaea continue to transform lives.  I recommend you read this letter and tell us your own stories of how TY and YJ have changed your life.

Dear David,

It’s been a while since we were last in touch. I hope the spring passed well for you, and I especially hope that the summer is going well. How was first session? What are you expecting from second session? How do you think Tel Yehudah is doing as a community?

I’m (mostly) writing because I wanted to thank the Tel Yehudah community, both past and present. It is through TY and YJ that I met some of my closest friends, and just as importantly, it is through the TY community that I really learned to embrace my Zionism and understand my affection for Israel.

I first started considering Aliyah while still in high school, and now, looking back, I am sure that my summers at tel yehudah had a great deal to do with my decision. More recently, though, being at TY last summer for the first time in five years reaffirmed my desire to live a Zionist Israeli life. The tsevet who I interacted with, worked under or oversaw were, in my eyes, genuine Zionists who not only care about Medinat Yisrael, but also care about educating and supporting the next generation of Zionists, and are a great set of examples for the chanichim, in terms of understanding and living Israel. Whether the tsevet saw this in themselves or not, I believe this to be true.

I commend Tel Yehudah, its tsevet and its chanichim, as they struggle to support Medinat Yisrael in a world which increasingly seems to be anti-Israel or anti-Zionist. I know that the education, leadership and tikkun olam which the chanichim participate in every summer are doing a great good in both the larger world and small communities, and I know first-hand that these ‘summer activities’ do not stop affecting the chanichim once they go home. What chanichim learn at camp never leaves them.

The inclusive community of Tel Yehudah helped me define myself as an Israeli, and helped me begin to define my positions as a Zionist. It allowed me to meet all types of Jews, with different takes on Judaism and Zionism, and I am glad that I had the chance to interact with them all. Now, living in Jerusalem, I sometimes flash back to peulot from my Alumim summer, or a more recent TY Caucus, and I feel proud to have been educated in such a pluralistic environment. Some days I struggle to support the Israeli government or society, but on those days especially I know that I love Israel and the Jewish people no matter what.

Making Aliyah, for me, was about coming home to a place where I feel comfortable being myself, without judgment from others about my name, my religion, or my ethnicity. Tel Yehudah was an excellent preparation step for my Aliyah, as I felt surrounded by Israelis and other lovers of Israeli culture. Although I have yet to feel 100% integrated into Israeli society (and I think that point is a long way off…), I was better acclimated to it before I even landed because of my knowledge of Israeli current events and my personal interactions with members of the mishlachat.

My integration into Israeli society is moving forward well, as I speak only in Hebrew while at work, during my commute, and while doing all sorts of mundane everyday things. It is at work, though, where I really feel that I am fulfilling my responsibilities as a true Zionist, as Tel Yehudah inspired me to do: As a landscape architect at one of Israel’s leading firms, I am creating Israel, affecting her tangibly, developing the country and greening the land. And I love it.

But sometimes physical work on Israel is not enough, and I think that this is the point at which Young Judaea and Tel Yehudah become the most influential in young Zionists’ lives. Together with several other TY alumni and a growing number of other young Zionists, I participate in the newly founded Zionist Book Club, which meets in Jerusalem monthly with the purpose of discussing not only books, but also the theory, history and current status of Zionism and Israel. Through this book club, where opinions and ideas flow freely and which inspires all its participants to debate and discuss in their everyday lives, I believe that a movement will be born. A pluralistic, multidimensional movement which will speak to Israel’s disenfranchised citizens, and will push Israel to be that best that it can be. This book club, and the movement which I hope will grow out of it, are the direct result of my Zionist upbringing in Young Judaea, and my maturity into a true Zionist at Tel Yehudah.

Even here in Israel, I am sometimes teased for describing myself as a Zionist. But I thank Tel Yehudah for instilling in me the pride in Israel and the Zionist Movement that compel me to loudly respond “Yes, I am a Zionist.”

Have a great rest of the summer, andלשנה הבאה בירושלים !

Yarden Elhanan

Proud Tel Yehudah Alumna and Zionist Architect

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