We obviously love the Diller Baltimore Teen Fellow program so much that becoming Junior Counselors and doing it another year as the new cohort’s mentors was a natural decision. Our love for Diller stems from the unique experiences that make up this amazing program.
During our time as Diller Fellows, not only did we participate in a life-changing trip to Israel – where we formed unbreakable bonds with our Israeli counterparts – but we also found that the program contributed to the people we are today. Through Diller, we made some of our closest friends whose Shabbat dinners we still attend weekly and whose houses have become our homes away from home.
We’ll never forget a Friday night service during the week-long International Congress when teens from all over North America and Israel came together, dressed in white, to welcome Shabbat. Seeing this sea of white and celebrating with teens from across the world was remarkable, and an image that we will never forget.
Going into the program we were leaders, but without the necessary skills to make an impact in our community. The seminars and retreats, as well as the rest of the program, helped us to develop into the strong, independent Jewish leaders we’ve become. Now, after completing Diller, we can say that we have gained confidence in ourselves, a strong sense of our Jewish identity and a commitment to the Jewish community, both locally and globally.
While the seminars, retreats and our own community service projects were certainly highlights, two parts of the program that were unforgettable were hosting an Israeli teen in our homes and our experience in Israel. While we hosted an Israeli teen for a little more than a week, we spent time together, took them to school, traveled to DC and formed a close connection with them and the entire cohort from Ashkelon.
As for the Israel trip, we can both confidently say that it was one of the best experiences we’ve ever had. The trip was broken up into three weeks, the first for traveling, the second for the International Congress, and the final for home hospitality and community week in Ashkelon.
Another special moment was our time in Jerusalem. As part of our welcome to Jerusalem, we were all blindfolded on a bus for about 10 minutes. When we got off the bus, lined up and took off our blindfolds to see the city, the golden dome came to life before our eyes.
Later on, during Shabbat, we walked from our hotel to the Kotel to celebrate and welcome Shabbat with hundreds of other people. Praying at the wall that our ancestors fought so hard for and dancing and singing with Jews from every nationality and background was a surreal experience that made us realize the unique connection that Judaism forms between people.
Also in Jerusalem, we spent one night walking around Ben Yehuda Street, awed by its vibrancy and life. Another day we had the opportunity to volunteer at Beit Canada and see how the Ethiopian refugees live, while brightening up the children’s days.
The other moment that stands out occurred during the International Congress with the other Diller cohorts from the U.S. and Israel. Other than the Shabbat service we spent together, we won’t ever be able to forget the phrase “Judaism is not a religion” which Avram Infeld, the President Emeritus, Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, boldly said — rather yelled — at least 17 times in order to get across the idea that Judaism is not only a religion but a family, a culture and an identity. Whether we were on the beach in Ashkelon or volunteering, this phrase was proven true as our Diller cohort truly became a family with its own traditions, connections and sense of belonging.
This is the Diller program in a nutshell, and we are so grateful and ecstatic to have been a part of it and to be able to continue our growth through Diller as Junior Counselors.