By Jordyn Kaplan
As the sun continued its lethargic crawl to its perch in the sky, the muted pink and orange rays it emanated extended across the Israeli landscape beneath the western rim of Masada.
At this ledge, my USY Israel Pilgrimage group began wrapping tefillin and gazing over the vast stretch of desert, our excited whispers rising and falling as not to shatter the serenity of the atmosphere.
While davening Shacharit, I couldn’t help but internalize the moment; an overwhelming peace fell over me as I looked at the faces of my closest friends.
My dad had mentioned that the morning spent at Masada was his favorite part of his own pilgrimage trip 40 years earlier, but I didn’t truly understand until I experienced it myself.
My dad, Richard Kaplan, went on USY Israel Pilgrimage in 1977, exactly forty years before I went on Eastern Europe/Israel Pilgrimage last summer.
He had been incredibly involved in USY for all four years of high school, attending almost every Hagalil New Jersey convention and even three International Conventions. Because he had such a positive experience in USY, he encouraged my own involvement.
I don’t doubt that I would’ve become an active USYer anyway, but having a parent who fully understands the special moments in USY has made sharing my stories all the more meaningful.
Whenever my dad recounts his time in Israel, he can’t help but smile as the memory sequences play in his mind. As enticing as his stories about exploring the shuk (marketplace) and singing through every hike always have been, what always intrigued me the most about his trip was the longevity of the relationships he formed; through college graduations, weddings and even their children’s b’nai mitzvahs, my dad is still best friends with one of the guys he spent the summer with.
I always wanted that too. Now, over half a year since I my trip, I can say with certainty that I too made friendship that will last for many years to come.
In my family, there is an iconic picture of my father, from his trip, taken in the Negev desert.
In it, my dad casually rests his weight on one leg, the opposite knee flexed. His cutoff denim shorts, white tube socks, and hiking boots are perfectly complemented by the backwards hat compressing his mass of curls.
A tallis is draped over his shoulders, and he’s looking up from his siddur to give the camera a knowing look. The best part is the bubblegum protruding from his lips in a perfect sphere.
This photo has always been a conversation point in my family, with my siblings and me never neglecting an opportunity to tease my dad about his “swagger.”
Of course, I had to recreate it when I went to Israel – it took me numerous tries to actually blow a perfect bubble, but it was worth it.
My dad and I have always been close, and sharing a love for USY and Pilgrimage has created another way for us to connect. I love that my relationship with Judaism has been so influenced by him.
Going on Pilgrimage empowered my sense of Jewish identity, introduced me to some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met, and taught me how to have a dynamic, developing relationship with Israel.
While the trip was life-changing on its own, being able to share it with my dad made it all the more special.