On a trip to Israel with 25 dynamic teens, I felt like a kid again

At 56, I can’t exactly say my 60th birthday is around the corner, but I can see the corner from here. Still, on my latest  trip to Israel, I felt like a kid again.

For 10 days last month, I traveled across Israel with the 25 rip-roaring teenagers who make up the 2011 Write On for Israel cohort.

Run by BlueStar, WOFI teaches Bay Area Jewish high-schoolers Israeli history, pro-Israel advocacy, journalism and filmmaking techniques. After six months in the classroom, the students visit Israel to study the country in depth and make a documentary film.

I’m the lucky pup who teaches them journalism, and then gets to accompany them to Israel.

This is the third year of WOFI, and by now we staffers have perfected this chaperone/role model stuff. We really lucked out this year with an exemplary group of teens.

There were Gemma and Anna, with whom I found myself in our Jerusalem hotel chapel on Shabbat singing Beatles songs. They knew the lyrics better than I did.

There was Andy, who re-injured a dislocated shoulder during a twilight basketball game we played at our kibbutz. After five minutes in agony, he put himself back into the game.

There was Michael, the most tech-savvy person I’ve ever met, who took on Israeli venture capitalist legend Yossi Vardi in a one-on-one interview.

There was Rosa, thrilled to be in Israel for the first time. I was with her at the Tel Aviv Port when it hit her — as it does for so many first-time visitors — that everyone around her was Jewish.

It’s a joy to see Israel through their eyes. This time, I felt much more like part of the group, rather than a disconnected schoolmaster.

Playing beach volleyball with the kids on a balmy Tel Aviv night, hiking the dusty trail to the Ein Gedi waterfall overlooking the Dead Sea, and even attempting to rap (my nom de hip-hop: Deepeezy), the generational distances between us fell away.

As always happens when I visit Israel, I saw new and startling things.  A few snapshots:

We toured a museum that has an interactive exhibit called “Invitation to Silence,” led by deaf Israelis. Wearing sound-deadening headphones for 90 minutes, we got a vivid taste of the deaf life.

Visiting Sderot, a short rocket blast from Gaza, we were shown by a kibbutznik how Hamas uses Google Earth to target Israeli civilians. Three hours later, I sat with five WOFI teens at Google Israel’s plush headquarters for an interview with CEO Meir Brand, who touted Google’s high-tech achievements.

Same Google, two very different impressions.

At our kibbutz near the Golan, most guests were not Jews, but Arabs, probably there for a reunion. Seeing the Arab families stroll peacefully about the grounds, watching their Jewish hosts cheerfully serve them hot food in the dining hall, made me think: If this is apartheid, Israel sucks at it.

But my most enduring impression from this trip will be of the kids and the connection they made with Israel over the 10 days.

It’s one thing for them to read about a hostile border; it’s another to stand five feet from Lebanon and know this is the frontline of Zionism.

It’s one thing to read about the sole democracy in the Middle East, and another to enter a Tel Aviv shuk, where Arab and Jew, haredi and secular, Ethiopian-born soldier and Russian-born retiree jostle their way through the crowd.

The WOFI kids know Israel now. When they get to college, where Israel-bashers stand ready to spew their ignorance about apartheid or Zionist terror, our kids will stand up to them and speak the truth.

The root of the word “education” is from the Latin educare, which means “to draw out.” In my teaching, I always try to get WOFI students to draw from within their innate sense of right and wrong, and of self-expression, especially when it comes to advocating for Israel.

I’m proud to say that for three years running, the WOFI teens have figured it out. Thanks to them, I feel certain that the future of pro-Israel advocacy is in good hands.

Dan Pine can be reached at [email protected].

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.