When Tyler began his high school career, his classmates drew swastikas on the bathroom stall doors, and had no qualms about using terms like “Heil Hitler” in front of him. All of this, and being called a “dirty Jew,” was more than enough incentive for Tyler to switch schools – and to learn more about his Jewish heritage.
Tyler, now a senior at Parkway Central High School, has been an active participant in NCSY/JSU for the last two years. This summer, he came full circle, living proudly as a Jew in Israel on The Anne Samson Jerusalem Journey (TJJ), NCSY’s Israel summer program for public school teens.
“When you don’t have a large Jewish community around you at home, being in Israel is very enjoyable,” says Tyler. “And going to the Western Wall for the first time in my life – and wrapping tefillin there – was an incredible experience.”
Tyler adds that on TJJ, he “really took in” the entire Israel experience. He loved touring Israel’s “incredibly scenic” land, especially the Kineret, Masada, and Jerusalem. And although he’s always been a strong supporter of Israel, he said being in Israel and going to a settler’s home and hearing his story was particularly impactful.
“He taught us how to answer the most commonly asked questions from the Palestinian perspective and how to defend Israel,” he says. “Now I have the knowledge I need to not only stand up for Israel, but also to inspire others to do the same.”
What was Tyler’s favorite moment of the trip?
He recalls the last Shabbos, when his group returned to the Kotel on Friday night.
“We were praying at the Wall and there were twenty soldiers dancing in a circle,” he says. “We joined them, and I was on someone’s shoulders, and there was a soldier next to me on someone’s shoulders, and were all praying together. At that moment, I felt like nothing compares to this.”
Tyler says he hopes to be able to return to Israel soon, next time with his family. And until then, he’ll keep the inspiration going by participating in NCSY/JSU programs, and by putting on the tefillin NCSY sponsored for him every day.
“TJJ was such an inspirational trip,” he says. “I’ve always been incredibly prideful of my Judaism, but TJJ let me experience firsthand why there is so much to be proud of when you’re a Jew.”
Captions: (Top) Tyler at the Kotel for the very first time. (Middle) Tyler, top left, with fellow TJJers at Mt. Arbel. (Bottom): Tyler (second from right) with TJJ friends at the Kotel.