Wheels Wednesday; A Word From REC Jacquie Mitzner

Forty-three USYers. Five staff. Six and a half weeks. One family. These things are what changed my life for good; for the better. This past summer, I was extremely fortunate to spend my summer on USY on Wheels Bus A. For anyone who may not know, USY on Wheels is a six and a half week trip around the U.S., with about 40 other USYers from all over the United States and Canada. Some people may be disgusted or afraid of spending that much time on a bus, with people you have never met. But on Wheels, these people become more than just your friends, they become your family. I can’t think of a better way to have spent my summer.

  I could preach to you about how Wheels was the best summer of my life, and it will be the best summer of yours, all you have to do is sign up. Instead, I want to just tell you how much Wheels can affect you. Today, I still talk to my bus family everyday. We have a group chat, and when I’m feeling down, or have had a rough day, they are the people I turn to. They understand me almost better than anyone, and I trust each and every one of them with everything. There is nothing better than knowing that you have forty-two people waiting to be by your side, comfort you, be there for you. One day I may forget the places I went on Wheels, but I will never forget the people.

  I wish I could describe to you a ‘typical’ day on Wheels, but there really isn’t one. Each day is extremely unique and memorable in its own way. On the first night of my trip, I was roomed with a girl named Sarah Parsons, and her and I ended up having a pillow fight, even though we had just met hours go. Then on our longest bus ride (thirteen hours) we watched “Pitch Perfect” and during the finale everyone got out of their seats and started dancing in the aisle, while my friend Jacob was passed out on the floor, all of us jumping over him. You will laugh so hard your sides will start to hurt, and you can’t even remember why you are laughing.

  I can honestly say that Wheels has changed me and made me into the person I want to be. Before Wheels I had a bit of trouble going up to new people and having conversations with them, and sometimes just keeping the conversation going was a struggle. I didn’t have very much confidence in myself or in my abilities. I questioned my ability to lead, if I was really right for the job. One of the first days of Wheels, our staff had us fill out a chart: how introverted or extroverted do we think we are? Are we open to new experiences? And many more questions. Then towards the end of the trip they had us fill it out again. I was so much more comfortable with myself by the end than I was in the beginning. Wheels allows you, just like SWUSY, to be utterly, entirely, yourself, whoever that may be.

 On the last night of Wheels, our bus pulled into the parking lot, and everyone buckled their seat belts, for the first time, refusing to get of the bus. At least half of the people were crying at that moment (not gonna lie, I was one of them). Then the next day, the last day, each one of us, sat in the dirty parking lot, singing our bus song, Hamalach HaGoel Oti (so if I ever break down crying when we sing that in sloach, this is why.) Every single one of us was crying our eyes out. The minutes passed too quickly, and suddenly I was leaving my family, heading somewhere I didn’t even feel comfortable with calling home anymore. Bus A is my family, my home.

  I have been asked to describe Wheels in one word many times, and I never could think of a truly appropriate one until now. Home.

Golden Memories In the City of Gold, by SWUSY President Rachel Shapiro

On the first Friday night of the trip, our group stood in a park on a hill overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem.  With my 41 new friends and I all gathered, our group leader asked us to share our favorite memories from the first week of USY Israel Pilgrimage.  For some people, it was our visit to the Western Wall.  For others, it was the archaeological dig.  For me, it had been to our visit to the shuk, the open air market, that afternoon.  

As we were talking, the siren that signifies the beginning of Shabbat sounded, and we all grew silent to listen.  The wailing siren, paired with the utter silence of the city sent shivers down my spine.  Once it was over, we began to pray, our voices harmonizing as we sang and danced together.  And then the sun began to set over the Old City.  As the light hit the Jerusalem stone, it glowed  an almost magical golden color.  It was just like the song we sing at every SWUSY convention back at home, “Jerusalem of Gold.”  Here it was as I had always imagined it: the Old City of Jerusalem, with the most important sites in Judaism, all laid out in front of me, reflecting the setting sun.  Israel is where the past and present of Judaism meet, and I was standing at the center of it all.

The next evening, our group gathered for Havdalah, the concluding service of Shabbat.  We all stood in a circle, with our staff members standing in the middle.  One of them held the container of spices, another the cup of wine, and another the lit Havdalah candle.  The braided candle has two wicks, representing the the joining together of Shabbat and the rest of the week that occurs during this service.  As we swayed together and sang the prayers, I watched the flame flicker and dance.  When it was time, I lifted up my hands and felt its warmth.  And then finally, we were silent.  One of our staff members took the candle and ever so slowly lowered it into the wine, letting the flame last as long as possible.  

Later that week, our group traveled to the Negev Desert, where we spent a night sleeping under the stars in the Ramon Crater. As part of the experience, we were allowed a few moments to walk into the desert alone at night to reflect in silence. When I turned off my flashlight, absolute darkness surrounded me, except for the light of the moon and the stars. Looking up at the millions of stars, completely alone for the first time in almost two weeks, I thought of the light of the Havdalah candle.  

It occurred to me that the candle represents what I love most about being Jewish–the sense of community. Wherever I go around the world–Israel, Europe, even home–I know that I am connected to the Jews who live in that place.  Even though I was thousands of miles away from my physical home that summer, I felt right at home in this other country.  I could see the connections between my life at home and the world around me, like how a song I sing in America had come to life halfway around the world, overlooking the city of Jerusalem.  

Just like the Havdalah candle is braided together to signify the joining of Shabbat and the rest of the week, I am braided together with other Jews.  The light of our individual wicks joins together to form a single flame, burning strong no matter who or what tries to snuff us out. Though I sat in total solitude in a desert far from home, I knew that so long as we light the Havdalah candle each Saturday, I am never truly alone.