Growing up, I never felt a strong connection to my Jewish identity. I knew I was Jewish, but it didn’t play a significant role in my life. Attending a public school for all of my schooling meant that my understanding of Judaism was limited, and I felt like an outsider when it came to discussions about Jewish culture and history.
When I started going on UJEB’s annual camp in grade 3, it immediately felt like a place in which my Jewish identity was not only acknowledged, but it was celebrated. Years of attending camp went by, and a very naive and younger version of myself heard about the Year 10 Israel trip and thought absolutely nothing of it. I’d heard stories from my family about how special this place was meant to be for us as Jews, but there wasn’t anything inside of me saying I had to go. As the year went by, I ended up taking the leap of faith and went. 6 weeks away from my family, in a country I knew so little about, wasn’t easy to begin with, but by the end, in felt like home. Making new friends, seeing new sights and connecting to a new land on the UJEB program was life-changing. I came back to Australia with a passion for Israel and my Judaism. I just wanted more. I wanted to get involved in the Melbourne Jewish community in whatever way I could, but most of all, I just wanted to go back to Israel.
As a Year 10 student who thrived off of academics and constantly learning new things, university seemed like the natural path for me take after high school. What the UJEB program made me realise was that a gap year in Israel was what my heart desired. There was so much more to learn, to see and to eat. I wanted to do it all. Had I not gone on UJEB’s Year 10 Israel Program I wouldn’t have formed such a strong connection with the land, and wouldn’t have rushed back to spend a year there post-graduating.
Spending a year living in Israel reassured me of my love for the country, and it reminded me how lucky we are as Jews to have a place like Israel. I had such a positive experience on the trip that I wanted to make sure other teens would have this same opportunity.
When I went as a madrich on the Israel program last year, I underestimated just how special I would find it to see 130 Year 10 students beginning the same journey that I so positively benefited from when I was in their shoes. I’m beyond excited to be returning as a madrich on the 2023 UJEB Israel Program Ketsev. Whilst we take these teens to enjoy 6 weeks in Israel with their friends, eating food and exploring all the sights, it’s so much more than that. We take them to begin a journey, their Jewish journey. No matter where in their journey they are before the program, the goal is to make sure it’s a journey that will last a lifetime.
Joseph Folwell is a current UJEB madrich and Jewish Life teacher, playing an integral role in the engagement and programming in programs such as J-Lunch, Shesh Social, UJEB Camp, and leading the Nesiah Israel Program in 2022. A graduate of the UJEB journey and Mazkir for BBYO Melbourne, Joseph brings a passion and ruach to UJEB that can only be found in those that embody UJEB values in every way.
UJEB’s Israel Program for 2023, Ketzev, is now open for applications and will be running for 5 weeks across Israel December 2023-2024. Year 10s across VIC, WA, TAS, SA and ACT are invited from all non-Jewish schools to be part of this incredible experience.