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We Made It: Climbing Mount Neshef with the Support of My Jewish Community

We Made It: Climbing Mount Neshef with the Support of My Jewish Community

Teens climbing a desert mountain

The wind roared through the mountains, lifting us over the vast expanse of the Negev Desert. From our vantage point at the top of Mount Neshef, 2,800 feet above sea level, we admired the view of the Red Sea as we shouted and hugged each other in joy. Although many of my friends were overcome by fear, we all made it up the mountain – together.

We stopped at the halfway point about 25 minutes into the climb to catch our breath and prepare for the hardest section of the trail, a steep, rocky incline to the peak. As I smiled and took in the view with a few new friends, I noticed that one of my oldest summer camp friends looked out not with excitement but with trepidation. I approached her, asking what was wrong, and was met with a quick response: “I can’t do it.”

For a moment, I was back in Carmel - our first unit at URJ Camp Harlam, a Reform Jewish summer camp in Pennsylvania. My friend and I were both in Israel as participants in Harlam in Israel, an offshoot of NFTY Israel that brought together Harlam campers for a community trip to Israel - together.

In that moment, atop Mount Neshef, we weren’t two teenagers on the side of a mountain in Israel, but two bright-eyed campers, looking up at the camp's climbing tower for the first time. The two of us shared a bond that no one else did, having seen our unit change every single year since 2012 and culminating in new connections as we united for this summer in Israel. I knew that this moment would bring our friendship and our camp experience full circle.

From Carmel to Israel.

Within seconds, I gave up my spot at the front of the pack and reassured my friend that I’d be behind her for the remainder of the climb. After a few minutes of convincing, she agreed to keep going, and we started to hike again.

A little over 10 minutes later, we neared the final stretch. We scaled the last rock, linked hands, and walked to meet the rest of our group. As we hugged and looked around, my eyes flooded with tears of pride. We made it. Seven years removed from Carmel, thousands of miles from home, we'd made it. 

Looking back on all of the times that my counselors and friends were there for me when I needed them, it meant so much to me that I was able to finish the climb with her. Camp Harlam, above all else, has taught me to treasure the people around me. The counselors, mentors, and friends there have all become family over the past seven summers, showing me that it’s OK to be scared and it’s OK to cry, but that when we're surrounded by the people we truly care about, there’s nothing in the world we can’t accomplish.

To camp, thank you for providing me with so many incredible memories with incredible people. To the staff of Harlam in Israel, thank you for showing us all this beautiful new home in Israel. And to my dear friend Shayna Friedman: Congratulations. We made it.

Reece Ratliff was a summer 2019 participant in NFTY in Israel

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