Piper Kelly, a Midwesterner from a traditional Christian background, her work in the Bethany Public School system (Oklahoma City) provided career fulfillment and family and friends enriched her life.
Then in 2009 she went to Israel with a church group. The visit stunned Kelly, who, realizing that Jesus was Jewish began to delve deeply into the Jewish roots of her faith.
Likewise, her dad, a preacher, who had accompanied her, was similarly moved by Israel that he concocted a plan to enable the entire family to see the country.
Since Kelly’s family enjoys “family night” every Thursday, her father’s idea “worked to perfection.” He created a slide presentation on Israel to whet everyone’s enthusiasm. “Then he pledged, if each family member could save $1,000, he’d pay for the balance of the trip. Presto! Eleven family members visited Israel!”
Kelly was so fascinated by Israel that she wanted to find a way to move there, recognized it would be difficult to do if she could not speak the language. That’s when the secretary for Bethany High began
to study Hebrew.
Subsequently, Kelly made two more visits to the country paving the way for her to become a YASE chaperone in November 2013. (Bethany’s second year in the program.)
“I was so in love with the language that, this summer, I went to Israel to study Hebrew for five weeks at Hebrew University.”
Her determination compelled her to “stay at it” and really immerse herself in Israeli culture.
When the YASE trip began Kelly smiles, “I was exposed to a lot more Jewish people, which was really beneficial. “I’d always been on ‘Christian tours’ before.” Since other U.S. chaperones with me were Jewish, I’d sit and listen to them. Then I decided to sit with Hebrew speakers at meals – which was really interesting.”
She chuckles at her initial attempts to understand conversational Hebrew, “At first, I couldn’t decipher a thing – they spoke so fast. Later I began to pick out certain words. By the third meal, something clicked in my brain and, suddenly, I realized that I actually knew what the conversations were about!”
Her previous visits helped her focus her group’s tour. Visits to sites important to Christian pilgrims gave Kelly an opportunity to listen, learn, and even teach.
“The tour guides were all Jewish; on my three previous trips they were ‘Messianic’ guides. When Jewish tour guides took us to Christian sites, they emphasized Catholic significance. That gave me an opportunity to explain to the students the differences.”
She continues, “The kids from our school are strong Christians – we’re in the ‘buckle’ of the Bible Belt – and I could tell them where to find the site in Bible. Their eyes would light up, and they’d say, ‘I’m going to read that tonight.’”
“On our last day in Jerusalem, I knew the Garden Tomb was not on the itinerary, but I told the kids that there was no way they could leave Israel without seeing it.
I borrowed one of the New York chaperones, but when we got to the Garden Tomb, it was closed!
A nice lady unlocked the gate and allowed us in.
We opened the door to the tomb and took pictures.
One student remarked that being there “made her whole trip worthwhile.”
Kelly, whose passion for Israel and the YASE program is infectious, is thrilled by the opportunities the program offers, “Our students form wonderful friendships with Israeli students, and they talk about how their lives are changed forever.
Moreover, Kelly knows her own life, too, will never be the same!
It has become extremely important to her to be an ambassador for Israel and teach youth about “America’s Middle East ally.”