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February 10, 2012 10:00 am

Miami, a Vending Machine, and My First YZL Conference

avatar by Kari Hochwald

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Miami Beach, FL. Photo: wiki commons.

I had never been to a Jewish-related conference before YZL (Young Zionist Leadership); actually I had never been to any sort of conference . I generally knew how it would work–a bunch of people getting together to talk about Jewish things…and go to the beach, of course. We’re in Miami! But I still was a little nervous. Would I know what was going on? Would I be able to have input in the conversation? Waking up at 6 AM for a 5 and a half hour car ride while also remembering the joys of driving in Miami didn’t help ease my wariness (though the Dunkin Donuts breakfast pit stop was nice).

After getting little to no sleep the previous night and later overhearing some students describing the dishwater-like instant coffee available to us, Jordan and I headed to the vending machine to caffeinate our tired brains. I’m not a fan of soda and was planning on just sucking it up (or falling asleep), but Jordan was really excited for a Pepsi. Even more excited when she pushed the Pepsi button and out popped–a Brisk tea! Not exactly, since she hates tea (poor life choice) but gladly handed the drink off to me. After Rick successfully received a Mountain Dew, we figured it was safe to try again. But alas, tricks! The second attempt was with Diet Pepsi, but the vending machine gods cruelly handed down a Sprite. Not only is Sprite caffeine-free, but the machine itself was not even supposed to supply it (there was a Sierra Mist option, ew). Though we parted ways with the vending machine bewildered and a little bit angry, Jordan was willing to give it a second chance at friendship on Saturday. Another try for Pepsi; the vending machine gods at least got the caffeine part right when they delivered a Mountain Dew. That was our last encounter with the vending machine – friend request denied.

Now to relate this small, random moment to Zionism.

Without being too corny, I’d say it was because it really was the small, random moments of the conference that stuck out to me the most. The really friendly girl I briefly met who remembered my name over the whole weekend, even though I immediately forgot hers–as per usual. (This is why we were supposed to wear our name tags, people.) Finding out there were Holocaust survivors at the hotel who were so excited for YZL to be there. Watching them take pictures of us, obliviously standing in the way of the hired photographer trying so desperately to get a nice group shot. Wondering why there were keyholes on the outside of the hotel doors and then being told by one of my roommate’s that they were for those keeping Shabbat, like her. Learning a catchy and beautiful Ugandan tune for the Sh’ma during Reform services. Doing yoga on the beach and looking at the world upside down, ignoring that I’ve never done yoga before in my life and was also completely covered in sand. Walking to CVS at night and encountering those terrifying Miami drivers (it was like playing Frogger!).

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YZL was also like the vending machine in giving me a weekend that I wasn’t expecting.

I knew I would leave having learned something, and I knew I would leave having met some new people. But of course, it’s never that simple.

Picking three beads to try and represent my whole Jewish identity. Wondering what my Jewish identity is. Looking all around me, inside and outside of the hotel and seeing Jews everywhere. Having the same feeling of unity as I found on Birthright. Wanting to be in Israel again. Going to Havdallah services at night on the beach and thinking this is what it must feel like to be at a Jewish camp. Trying to solve difficult situations Israel has faced in terms of the different sects of Zionism, sects I would never agree with yet had to force myself to understand from their perspective. Writing down everything I possibly could in my little hipster Herzl notebook to not miss or forget a thing. Singing Hatikvah on the beach to end an incredible weekend.

I thought this conference was going to be a Pepsi. It ended up being a Sprite. And I liked it.

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