Etgar 36

Essays Written by Participants

Sheri C., Cherry Hill, NJ

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the 36 days I spent on Etgar 36, and I wanted to take a minute to just  thank you for giving me the opportunity to be a part of Etgar 36. My friends, family and especially my parents have all noticed that my time on Etgar 36 has changed me as a person tremendously. It has caused me to mature greatly and I am now a much more independent, confident, and outgoing person. I have a much greater interest in the world around me.

I am constantly watching the news or reading the newspaper and engaging in conversations with my peers and elders about the various issues we explored on the journey. I feel that the journey has, and will, play a vital role in my life as I grow and mature into the person I want to become. I have learned countless lessons and I know each person we heard from has had, and will continue to have, an impact on my life. I look forward to recommending this trip to my friends and my sister already plans to attend in 2 years. The one thing all of my friends from Etgar 36 that I’ve talked to have said is we all wish more kids got the opportunity we did.”

Noah F., Atlanta, GA

“I am one very lucky teenager. This has been the summer of a lifetime. 32 Jewish teens from around the U.S. began their journey in Atlanta on June 26th. We visited 26 cities in 36 days, but not the typical cities or sites, which you might imagine are stops on a teen tour.  In the words of the visionary founder of Etgar 36, Billy Planer, this is not your Hard Rock Cafe teen tour. The challenge of Etgar 36 is twofold- learning to reconcile our Jewish and our American identities, and to confront the many social and political issues and problems facing America. Visiting the sites of the Civil Rights movement, experiencing Shabbat across the country in Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Gay-Lesbian, Reconstructionist shuls, shuls founded by Jewish recovering addicts and ex-convicts, joining the joyous spirituality at B’nai Jeshurun in New York. We heard a father’s personal account about the day his son was killed at Columbine High School, contrasted by  later meeting with an NRA representative to discuss gun control and hearing the blast of an AK-47 attack rifle in a firing range. We were overcome with emotion during experiences at the Mura Federal Building Memorial in Oklahoma City, Kent State University, and Ground Zero in New York.

I could go on and on. More important than the sights, were the discussions and debates by a group of teens, who learned that our country is filled with wonderful people, natural beauty and history, but also saddled by the weight of tragedy, social injustice and far too many examples of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man.

I could spend hours sharing the details of my journey, but I want to speak to you about the essential core concept derived from this experience, one that affected me most profoundly. Although we met with many prominent and famous people, such as Senator Barak Obama, Congressman John Lewis while we were in Washington, Penn and Teller in Las Vegas, Blue Man Group in Boston, it was an exchange with someone who none of you ever have heard of, that best explains the true challenge for each of us as individuals, as Americans and as Jews.  In San Francisco, we met with a man named Leon Veal. Mr. Veal is a simple man, who for most of his life remained illiterate. He was unable to read contracts, maps, or even a book or a newspaper. At the age of 44, he learned to read because one person showed up to meet with him every week to teach him. Once educated, he went forth and dedicated himself to educate others about the plague of illiteracy and helping others who were lost in a world that was unreachable to him before he could read. One person can make the difference in this world; all you have to do is show up. Our own scholars explain this concept in a similar manner, as the Talmud teaches us, if you save one person, it is as if you have saved the world.

The trip is technically over, but the journey will never end. Etgar 36 has changed me for the better. I would like to close by thanking Billy Planer for his own devotion to his dream, as it made a difference in my life. and now it is my turn to make a difference.”

Andrea H., Tulsa, OK

“I wanted to thank you so much for the most amazing summer experience ever. I had the most amazing time and made the most amazing friends. I learned about myself and about history and civil rights. I have been following up by writing letters to major news corporations about genocide, tolerance and AIDS awareness. I’ve sent an e-mail to the AIDS Quilt, and I’ve been in touch with Andrew from the Southern Poverty Law Center concerning the essay on tolerance I’m entering to possibly get published. Anyways, I wanted to know that I’m carrying on what I learned this summer back at home. Etgar changed my life and I’m so fortunate for being able to have had this experience. None of it would have been without you. Thanks for making summer ’05 the best summer so far.”

Daniel R., San Francisco, CA

“Now that it is over, I realize that this was the greatest experience of my life. I went into Etgar 36 excited about the meetings and nervous about the people. I figured it had to be fun traveling the country, and that I would have my likes and dislikes. I did not expect to have my loves. Loves are what I call events that inspired me and that I will never forget. Among these were sitting at a blues bar in Memphis, listening to recovering drug addicts at Beit Teshuvah, and roaming around the powerful city of Washington D.C.  I name these three when there are at least a dozen more I can recall.  There was another love, and so much more than the events, it was the people.  I love the people that accompanied me on this trip. Prior to the trip, I often thought about what I would do on the numerous bus rides. I was worried there would be nothing to do, and then I found myself making choices about what not to do.  Talking to people, reading a book, writing in my journal, listening to music, sitting at the front with the bus driver, or even calling someone at home, these were all possibilities on the bus. I feel as though those 5+ weeks were a chapter in my life that will never completely end.  July 27, coming home, is like learning to talk.  For the first year or two of my life, I assume I listened and observed. Then I started talking.  I shared ideas with people.  This is what I plan to do in the coming years. Etgar 36 was like the Green Day lyric – it was something unpredictable, and in the end it was right, I certainly had the time of my life.”

Alex M., Ann Arbor, MI

“Freedom and Discovery,” the mantra of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, was in my mind when I hit the road for the trip of a lifetime last summer. Twelve strangers and I, unique teenagers from all over the country, headed from coast to coast, then back again on a bus. In 36 days, we studied and discussed political issues, met with important individuals and groups, studied Civil Rights of past and present, and received a hands-on education of U.S. History as well as a life-changing experience. All of us were in for a ride we would not soon forget.

Upon boarding that bus, I was as good as a blank slate. Not only didn’t I have an opinion on any of the issues facing us, but I had absolutely no knowledge of these issues. I didn’t know how I felt on such divisive issues as gay rights, abortion, or gun control, which were only a few of the topics tackled on our journey. But because I spent time studying these issues from all sides and discussing them with my peers along for the ride, I became more informed and I now question and think more in-depth about everything I encounter.

One of the first stops along our journey was at Beth El Binah, a Synagogue just outside of Dallas, Texas; however, this was no ordinary Synagogue. The members of this Synagogue were mostly Gay and Lesbian. I had never really talked or spent time with anyone so openly homosexual before, so this was a new experience for me. After sitting and talking with them, I realized they are just regular people. Most of the time, I couldn’t even decipher which congregants were gay and which were straight. They were nice, thoughtful people who I realized shouldn’t be treated any differently because of their sexual orientation. Along with many other insightful meetings and discussions, my world started to take shape around me. Things began making more sense and I began to become opinionated. The greatest result of this discovery is that I now know my true passion: studying and discussing these same issues. This epiphany has pointed me in the right direction to my future in political science. This trip was, and still is, an integral part of shaping who I am today. I have learned about interaction and relationships with other people as well as many valuable lessons about myself. Just as importantly, I have discovered my passion.

In the aftermath of the trip, I realize that I now need to pursue these social and political aspirations with full force. The quote, “Let the world change you, and you can change the world,” has inspired me to dream big and then pursue these dreams. I feel as though I have progressed immensely in the first part; I have let the world begin to change me. Now I need to move to the second part, changing the world for the better. I have learned that anybody can talk, but the people who back their talk up with actions are the ones who make a difference in our world. One major message I took out of that amazing trip was to take action, and that’s what’s next for me. The trip is long over, but it will never leave me, as it will be forever changing me and helping me to change the world.”