As a New Year approaches, I wanted to reflect on my time in Israel a few years ago. My sister, boyfriend, and best friend decided to sign up for a Birthright trip to Israel. We luckily all got on the same guided, ten day trip, and were able to experience it together. Mayanot trip 466 was one that I will never forget. I will cherish my time in Israel for a lifetime and I can’t wait to be back.
Forty 22-26 year old’s from all over the country met at Newark airport for take off. About 15 hours later we all arrived in Israel. We were greeted by five trip leaders and were welcomed into Israel. “Welcome home,” they all said, reiterating the fact that we were officially at home, in Israel, and that Israel was our country just as much as it was theirs. A tradition in Judaism, we all stood in a circle while jumping and chanting the words brother and sister in Hebrew, and proceeded to kiss the ground.
It finally hit me. We made it. We were finally in Israel. The next ten days would uncover knowledge, culture, meaning, life, texture, religion, and family. Forty strangers, soon to become friends, standing in a circle, staring at each other, all living in the present and in the unknown, about to embark on a journey of a lifetime, together.
Our mode of transportation was a large bus, and it quickly became our home as well. Off and on the bus we would go, back from adventures and onto new ones, in the meantime sitting (sleeping), staring out the windows, appreciating the landscape and trying to memorize all the sights passing by. The bus to us was a relaxation spot, and a regrouping area that all of us would chat, listen to music, learn about each other, and learn new Hebrew words.
The bus, to me, was a safe-haven and a place for me to reflect (if I wasn’t sleeping). When you’re traveling with about 50 other people, it is very hard to get alone time. The bus to me was my alone time. My time to sit and reflect on the day, the week, the world, the opportunity I was given, even if it was only for 10 minutes.
Every day was an adventure and was made for us to feel different feelings, the north more holy and the south more tropical. The day-to-day activities were strategically planned so we got the most out of them. We switched hotels almost every night and were constantly on the go; I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Here are some highlights of places we went and things we did in our trip.
- Visited the Old City in Jerusalem
- Slept overnight in Bedouin tents in the desert.
- Woke up with the sun and rode Camels the morning after sleeping in the desert
- Spent the afternoon floating in the Dead Sea
- Walked through the streets of the holy Tsfat and learned about the Mikvae
- Climbed Mount Masada and become a Bat Mitzvah
- Bargained on Ben Yehuda street
- Walked home two hours in empty streets, following a visit to the Kotel after Friday night Shabbat
- After a memorable morning at Mt. Herzl cemetery, we went to Yad Vashem
- Shopped in the shuk in Jerusalem before Shabbat services
- Danced in Tel Aviv at a bar named Clara, located along the Mediterranean sea
- Used my headlamp in the City of David, while on a underground tunnel walk
- Water rafted down the Jordan River
- Listened to a radicalist speak along the border of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan
- Our last hot day in Tel Aviv shopping in flea markets
The ten days were a whirlwind and flew by in a flash- these are only some of the highlights. Visiting Israel made me realize how important it is to be proud of my heritage, culture, religion, and country. We were all definitely tested emotionally, physically and mentally during our adventure and I am very grateful for that. Still, two years later, I feel more in tune with Judaism and our faith’s cultural traditions and will carry them over to my future family. As a whole, we were sent off with a higher admiration of our country, and a better understanding of what it means to be Jewish, even if that meaning is different to each and every one of us.