Bonding through a bonfire
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Bonding through a bonfire

After a long day of learning, American and Israeli students boarded a bus together, excited to go to the beach in Nitzanim.

After a few minutes, the driver parked the bus. We Americans looked around. There was no sign of the sea anywhere. "We have to hike to the beach," one of the Israelis explained. "That’s what makes it so much fun. Otherwise it’s boring."

Many Americans looked irritated, and one of them slunk into her seat. "I’m exhausted!" She said. "All I want to do is lie on the beach and relax." However, we embarked on our adventure.


Above, Americans and Israelis gather together in front of the Mediterranean Sea at Nitzanim. Wahrman is in the back row, fourth from the left. Rebbetzin Lea Melamed, who led the group, is on the right. Inset: Wahrman with her chavrutah, Tal Ben-David.

As we hiked through the sand and dunes, my Israeli chavrutah, Tal, and I ran ahead of the group. The rabbi’s dog danced around us, and wagged his tail with glee. I couldn’t put my camera down — the scene was just so beautiful. Israelis and Americans walked together and laughed together.

We had been hiking for over an hour, when we approached a mountain of sand that we needed to pass. We held our breaths, and raced up to the top. I grinned as I saw the other side — the glimmering sea. We had made it at last.

As we watched the sun set, one Israeli played her guitar, and another played a flute. We savored a delicious barbecue, and set up a bonfire for a kumzitz (singing).

Singing alongside the Israelis underneath the starry sky, I felt more spiritual than I had ever felt before. We sang about Israel, our home.

Next to the entrance to the hike we had seen a settlement of Israeli families who had been evacuated from Gush Katif last August. The houses were tiny, and extremely close to each other. Seeing those houses infuriated me, for I knew of the gorgeous houses that many families had been forced to leave. Yet sitting next to my new Israeli friends, many who had close friends and family who had been evacuated, I could not help feeling hopeful. Despite everything that has happened, these Israelis never stop singing their songs of joy and love for Israel.

As Tal explained, "life goes on, no matter the circumstances." She will join the Israeli army in the middle of August, she told me with pride. I listened for a trace of fear in her voice, but I could not find it. We Americans had considered the hike to the beach to be an adventure, while my new friend was eager to put her life on the line to protect her country. We don’t know the meaning of adventure.

Yet despite our different lifestyles, that night we knew that we were one people. We sing the same songs; we have the same dreams. "L’shana habah b’yerushalaim ha’bnuyah" — next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem.

I gazed at the sky, and quickly spotted Orion’s Belt, which was my favorite constellation as a kid. I felt a sense of contentment; the stars are the same on this side of the globe, I thought. Suddenly Israel and America felt a lot closer together. Looking at these Israelis, I too never wanted to stop singing.

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