By Carlie Ladinsky

Carlie Ladinsky, a junior at Walton High School in East Cobb, is leaving soon to spend the spring semester at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel on a fellowship granted through Jewish National Fund’s Southeast Region.

The pre-Israel farewell party includes (back row, from left) Emily West, Olivia Woodman, Chris Dymanus, Kenny Chian and Benjamin Ladinsky and (front row, from left) Mallorie Melendez, Elizabeth Courtney, Allison Weber, Carlie Ladinsky, Ross Brill, Chandler Deaver and Srija Tummalapally.

The pre-Israel farewell party includes (back row, from left) Emily West, Olivia Woodman, Chris Dymanus, Kenny Chian and Benjamin Ladinsky and (front row, from left) Mallorie Melendez, Elizabeth Courtney, Allison Weber, Carlie Ladinsky, Ross Brill, Chandler Deaver and Srija Tummalapally.

I can finally say that I am going to Israel. As an Impact fellow, I will attend the AMHSI spring semester with high school students from North America and across the globe in just a few days.

We will study our core curriculum and an intensive review of Israel and 4,000 years of Jewish history. During the next four months I will have an opportunity to experience Gadna, a weeklong basic training course for Israeli youth; embark on a four-day hiking adventure from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Galilee; and travel to Poland to learn about the Holocaust’s destructive impact.

Only a few days in anticipation can drag on for what feels like a lifetime, yet they seem to be only a matter of seconds when I am reluctant to leave my friends and family. I have realized that it is actually a blessing in disguise that saying goodbye is so difficult; I am reminded that I am surrounded by amazing friends to wish me a safe and happy farewell.

Although bittersweet, my leaving is not the end to these friendships. It is a new, eye-opening beginning to my short accumulation of life, and I can undergo a transformation knowing that my friends will be there, arms open, when I return home.

Receiving this scholarship has made me believe that I am capable in spite of any obstacles. Limits can always be added later, but casting a wide net reels in opportunities that otherwise seemed impossible to reach. I am eternally appreciative to JNF and the Shirlye Kaufman Birnbrey Alexander Muss High School in Israel Impact Fellowship Program for considering my potential rather than the hindrances that obstruct my path to success. That path is now clearer than ever.

Yes, I am sad and nervous to leave; those feelings are inevitable when traveling 6,000 miles. However, I am evermore excited to follow in the footsteps of my ancestors.

I am excited to watch as more than 50 unfamiliar faces turn into the faces of my closest peers.

I am excited to learn more than my typical studies; I am excited to learn outside a standard classroom environment.

The party takes a musical turn with Ross Brill and Carlie Ladinsky singing a duet under the close watch of Rannah Ansari and John Connell.

The party takes a musical turn with Ross Brill and Carlie Ladinsky singing a duet under the close watch of Rannah Ansari and John Connell.

I am excited to gain a sense of belonging.

I am excited to discover how Israel, while in a state of conflict, remains optimistic in its values. I am excited to have those same values instilled in me.

Traveling to Israel is a privilege, but studying there as a fellow changes this trip from a vacation to a genuine involvement. I feel like I have earned my place in the beautiful state of the Jewish people. I thank JNF once again for its generosity.

This, to me, is not just a scholarship or a grant. Scholarships are payments awarded on the basis of academics and ability, and while a fellowship does offer financial support for academic qualifications, it also includes a commitment. A fellowship seeks out potential, a potential that separates the students who will earn the money and the students who will do well with the money.

So I am thankful that JNF, the Shirlye Kaufman Birnbrey AMHSI Impact Fellowship Program and the Jewish community as whole sought out my potential. I will live up to the expectation and fulfill my commitment to contribute from across the world and back at home.

I hope to write about my experiences as a teenager in Israel, and I hope to assure other high school students that it is quite possible to maintain the rigor of Advanced Placement classes even while experiencing the opportunity of a lifetime in the Holy Land.