[media-credit name="Grant Kendall" align="alignleft" width="394"][/media-credit]Senior Federico Zepeda has felt a connection every time he has visited Israel. He always felt deeper in his Jewish faith – like he was a part of the history. He saw what had taken place in the Holy Land. It has always felt right. When he visits Israel next year, he hopes to feel the same way.
“When I go to Israel, I feel really close to Judaism,” Zepeda said. “I feel a connection because it is the only Jewish country out there. It is a very philosophical place where you can learn a lot. [I] get to really connect the Old Testament to [historic] events and the actual places where those [events] occurred.”
Zepeda will spend next year in Israel studying abroad through Yeshivat Orayta. The program will be equivalent to a year’s credit spent in the United States if Zepeda attends Yeshiva University in New York City after studying abroad.
Zepeda’s parents have always wanted him to attend a program in Israel. They felt that it was an educational opportunity and a year that Zepeda could personally grow.
Originally, Zepeda planned to do a program through Imadi at Hebrew University, but it was no longer being offered. Zepeda was forced to look for another plan where he could spend a year in Israel studying religious texts.
“The last time I went to Israel, I went through a different program where we traveled through Poland and Israel,” Zepeda said. “We got to see the concentration camps from the Holocaust and other historic places. I was amazed that someone could do that to another human being. I personally felt like as if someone was taking a sledgehammer to my heart.”
Next year, Zepeda will only stay in Israel, based in the city of Jerusalem. From there, he will travel to different sites that are mentioned in the Old Testament. Zepeda will be going to where Moses split the Red Sea, the Western Wall and the graves of historic Jewish leaders — Abraham, Isaac, Rebecca Jacob and Rachel.
He has been involved with his temples, Beth Israel Avraham Voliner and Congregation Beth Shalom, for the past 14 years. Through his congregations, he built a relationship with the people there.
Zepeda has been an instrumental part in his youth group. He is in two youth groups and is the chapter president of Kansas City National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) and a board member of the Kansas City United Synagogue Youth.
He has met many students from Chicago through NCSY and the Israel trips he has taken through NCSY.
“I actually have a lot of my friends, all over the country that are going to be in this same program [next year],” Zepeda said.
Zepeda feels that his experience in Israel will teach him life lessons that will make him a better person.
“The Torah dictates not only what you need to do, but the lifestyle you should live,” Zepeda said. “I truly believe by learning the true meaning of everything and every word of the Torah and the Old Testament, it can shape the way Americans live. By learning it and studying it, you have so much more knowledge that you can live a much fuller life.”