This past January I went on birthright. It’s a rite of passage for young Jewish people, kind of like your bar or bat mitzvah, except you don’t have to pay for it, and it’s something you actually want to do. The days leading up to birthright, I got a lot of insight from many sources about what Israel was going to be like. Everyone said it was going to be an amazing experience, but couldn’t quite explain how. Well, I don’t even know if I can explain how but I will try!
Since it was Shabbat when we arrived, our very first meal in Israel was McDonalds so, I was immediately sold because Israeli McDonald's is probably a thousand times better than American McDonald's. In addition to it being Shabbat it was also the end of Hanukkah. It was really cool leaving America where we were surrounded by Christmas trees to being in a place where we were surrounded by menorahs and Hebrew.
Being in Israel was like what getting glasses feels like. Everything felt very clear. Just the pure feeling of being in a place where everyone is the same religion as you is one of the most comforting experiences. It’s like Israel was this home away from home that I didn’t know was waiting for me.
I had a lot of amazing experiences, some of my favorite were, learning about spirituality in Tzfat and seeing amazing art, going to the highly debated side of the egalitarian side of the western wall, where our tour guides cried for us because they were so glad we got to experience that side of the wall, and sleeping in the Bedouin tents in the same desert that our ancestors walked in. I remember looking up at the stars and seeing how clear they were, and I actually saw a shooting star, which was amazing.
One of the best parts of birthright was having Israeli soldiers join us on the trip. After talking to them, we soon discovered that they are just like us. We went to Israel with the expectation that they would be the most Jewish people in the world, however we learned that they are pretty secular, just like us. Talking to our peers gave us a new perspective of what it’s like to be fortunate enough to live in a land surrounded by Jewish people being the only way they know. They had no idea what it’s like to be a Jewish person as a minority in society. They couldn’t believe that we were bullied in school for being Jewish. Hearing about their military experience, what it’s like to live as part of a kibbutz, and their general day to day experiences let us see how amazing Israel is.
It was so easy to be friends with the soldiers and these friendships have lasted long after the trip. I am still in contact with some of them. One of them, a girl named Nof came to visit New York City with her family last weekend and I was able to meet up with her. She said “New York is so big and beautiful, like Tel Aviv but so much bigger!” And I was like, “Nof I’m pretty sure Tel Aviv is like New York but smaller”.
We have different perspectives on how we lives as Jews, but Judaism gives us so many things to have in common. Had I not talked to the soldiers, I don’t think I would have truly understood what it’s like to be a Jew raised in Israel. It felt so right to be in Israel but the soldiers helped it feel like home. Israel is like a home away from home and I know that I will be welcomed back by Nof and the rest of my birthright family when I return.