JITLI is not your average teen tour to Israel, to have fun and sightsee with Jewish friends. Rather, it is another type of experience of a lifetime, in which Jews and Arabs come together to discuss their similarities and differences, and create everlasting memories.

The night before JITLI was the night when it REALLY settled with me– I was going to be in Israel the next day with 10 Israeli’s and 20 Arabs, becoming friends and learning to understand each other. But then, I thought, “What are we going to talk about when we are not given something to talk about? Are we going to connect well? Is everyone else going to listen to the American point of view?” I became so nervous that I almost did not want to go anymore. But little did I know then, that that would have been one of the biggest mistakes of my life. It is said that through JITLI, people can learn understanding. I gained the true understanding of the trip itself from the very first moment us San Diegans walked into the Tel Aviv airport, where there were the other 30 participants awaiting our arrival with cheers, smiles, and roses. From then on, my time on JITLI only got better.

From sleeping on the floor of the Negev desert and having an extremely fun camp out, in which we sang “Happy Birthday” in all three languages to one of the participants, to our heated, frustrated discussions, to respectfully being at the Dome of The Rock, Western Wall, and Church of the Holy Seplechure all together, and finally, our mixed-emotional trip to the incredible Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem. I will never forget the nights of the home visits, most specifically, the time I sat on the floor of my good friend Samaher’s house in her Arab village, surrounded by her family, friends, and a couple other of my new friends, eating incredible, traditional Arab food. Our conversations were very relaxed, and we talked about things such as the clothes we wear, why we do and think certain things, boy problems, what San Diego and my friends are like, and we even traded food recipes! I felt so welcomed in her home, along with all of the other families’ homes I went to previously, I felt as if I was a family member. Never in my life had I pictured myself half way across the world, eating dinner with friends of a completely different culture, and having the time of my life with the people who I have only heard about having conflict with.

I wish everyone got the chance to have this incredible experience to carry with them for the rest of their lives, but as it is known, in order to create a big change, sometimes you have to take small steps first. Now, a couple months after the summer 2010 trip, I still frequently communicate with my friends over in Israel, and it is with absolute certainty that I, and the people I have talked to, are not the only ones longing to be back on the JILTI trip again. I greatly look forward to the day when I can go back to Israel and visit all of the amazing people I met, and even experience some of the sites we traveled to again, together.

Overall, I learned SO much about the people I was with, their backstories, their extremely contrasting lifestyles, and the thoughts that go through their heads. I also realized during one of our discussions of political and social issues, that coming from America, my entire San Diego group felt like outsiders in the discussion in a way we never had before, because we did not realize that we truly don’t know what is going on in Israel, and between real Israeli and Arab citizens just from the news. At that point, it really engraved in our minds that in order to get a full education of something, you have to experience it– and that is exactly what JITLI helps everyone with.

As our group wrote, and then chanted daily in a circle all together, “40 strangers, 40 friends, we’ll break the trends, we’ll make amends, WERE JITLI! Yeah, yeah, WERE JITLI! We’re here to listen and here to learn, by the end we’ll make a turn, WERE JITLI! Yeah, yeah, WERE JITLI!”

And that chant could not be more accurate.