My cynical outlook has always led me to believe that the saying "One person can make a difference" is a cliché that applies only to an elite group of people who have claim to large-scale accomplishments that are incomparable. During a recent experience, I was able to prove my theory to be incorrect. While completing a volunteer project in Israel last year, I truly felt that my actions had significant and positive consequences. I can honestly say that I made a difference.
The best 10 days of my entire life were formally referred to as HeChalutzim Seminar, a United Synagogue Youth (USY) sponsored trip to Israel offered to high school juniors who demonstrated leadership qualities and shared a love for the Jewish homeland. I was chosen to represent the Hagesher Region of USY, which encompasses Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. Over the course of the trip, my group of 17 teenagers studied Israel's military history, learned how to advocate for Israel, and discussed how to use our passion for Israel to engage and teach other teens.
My most memorable experience from HeChalutzim was not laughing hysterically with my 16 new friends, although that was definitely a highlight, but rather the first time I held a saw. We got off our bus after arriving at our destination in Northern Israel, and I was surprised to see a pile of handsaws on the ground. A Jewish National Fund (JNF) volunteer explained that the forest we saw before us had been damaged during the previous summer, a casualty of the War with Lebanon. A Lebanon-based terrorist group, Hezbollah, had incessantly fired ketusha rockets into Israel. The rockets had been aimed at cities, but miscalculations had caused some to land in this JNF forest, creating forest fires that burned the trees. The volunteer taught us to distinguish between dead and alive branches and showed us how to use the saws safely. Our task was to remove the dead trees in order to make room for a new generation of trees to be planted by the Jewish National Fund.
This experience would not have been as meaningful to me had I not been traveling in Israel during the summer of 2006, in the midst of the War with Lebanon. I participated in USY Israel Pilgrimage, and aside from weekly news updates I felt uninformed and helpless regarding the growing conflict that surrounded me.
My helplessness diminished when I was presented with the opportunity to give back to the Jewish homeland in the JNF forest. While my friends joked around with the saws and took pictures pretending to cut each other's heads off, I took the job seriously. I separated myself from my peers and wandered down an incline to be alone with my thoughts. While I gazed out at the town below, I began the difficult task of sawing the trees to their appropriate heights. I had never completed rewarding physical labor before and I was proud of the sweat that formed on my forehead.
The sweat proved that I was capable of taking action. Although my contribution of trimming tress one afternoon was a small scale accomplishment, I learned that I can make a difference.