There are so many experiences that one has on JITLI during the trip, but what is often forgotten are the first emotions one feels when they are thrown into this program from the very first day of the trip. The San Diego group had just welcomed the Israeli Arabs and Jews to our first hospitality at Hakfar Hayrok, and we were told to make one large circle to introduce ourselves and the groups. Now, let me just say, before even stepping onto the plane to Israel, I had repeatedly told myself that I was going to branch out the second we had met them; that I was going to go up to each and every one of them, and introduce myself. I wanted to be spontaneous, I wanted to be outgoing, I wanted them to know the happy—go—lucky Alex Harvey the second they saw me. That…idn’ happen. We were constantly told by Michael (our young counselor) to MIX! MIX! MIX, especially when they arrived. But, as we got into our circle, I was so taken back by the moment that I ended up next to Heather; one of my best friends. I was so disappointed in myself; this was exactly what I hoped wouldn’ happen, not that I don’ love Heather, but I wanted to show the group that I was going to take a risk and mingle.
After thinking about my wrong placing in our group circle, I looked around and became sick to my stomach. The Arab girls were together, Arab boys together, the Jews were together, some San Diego kids were together; it was JITLI madness! Hadn’ we been preparing for this moment the 6 months we worked? Why were we not mixed yet? I know I had high expectations for the first couple of minutes of the trip, but it was honestly not the start I had expected. While we introduced names and groups, the whole time I was thinking to myself: “hat had I gotten myself into?”There was no way that I was going to get close with these kids, and if we did get close, it was going to be a BIG struggle. I tried to imagine what each person was thinking, and some I thought just didn’ even want to be there in the first place. Man, I was not being as optimistic as I usually am, but then again those were my true feelings. So, we went around and said our names and where we were from, then some counselors talked, and then it was time to break; they were finally letting us off of our leashes to roam free, but was I ready? I got together with my 3 new roommates, and after talking to them for a couple of minutes, I started to ease up a little. But the next thing really took me by surprise; one of the Arab girls, Byan (who would later become one of my closest friends), just came up and grabbed my hand and we walked. Now, THIS was the JITLI experience I was waiting for. In that one instance, I went from being so unhappy, to being so incredibly excited, and it still amazes me how this one girl turned my attitude upside down. I even remember the first night at Mama Time that I was jumping up and down, ecstatic to begin the JITLI journey, because I was starting to create these new relationships. Yes I was scared, nervous, even maybe a little petrified in the beginning, but looking back, it amazes me that I thought that I wouldn’ get close to all of these kids, because they truly are my new best friends. I guess I learned a big lesson through those first couple of moments as well; I am human, and although I tried to avoid it for the longest time, I can sometimes be judgmental. I never wanted to face this reality that I judge people in a certain way, just on their appearance, their stance, their surroundings, but part of growing is learning from one’ mistakes, and I sure did. I had so many incredible experiences during JITLI, and I know that I could probably write a book based on my growth, my new knowledge, and my new friendships. This was a trip that truly changed my life, and although at the start I was a little hesitant about it, I will always be thankful for this program that mixes peace, some crazy teenagers, and a whole lotta love.