A few years doesn’t sound like much, but it feels like it’s been ages since my first international trip. In the Summer of 2011, my step-sister and I traveled with Birthright to Israel. For those of you unaware of Birthright, it’s an educational trip fully-funded by generous donations and the Israeli Government. Birthright’s goal is to bring Young Jewish Adults to Israel in order to gain firsthand experience of Israeli culture. Unfortunately, most of the details from my trip have been lost with time, but souvenirs and photographs have helped piece together enough for a post.
My first day in Israel was completely surreal. After a fifteen and a half hour flight from LAX to TLV, we drove to Caesarea (קֵיסָרְיָה) where I felt the Mediterranean Sea for my first time. Previously, I had never traveled to beaches beyond Southern California, so warm water was a very nice surprise. I eagerly met my new friends that I would be spending the next ten days with and that night we all stayed in a Kibbutz (קיבוץ) together.
The rest of the week was packed with activities guiding us all over Israel one adventure at a time. We hiked through the Gamla Nature Reserve to Israel’s largest waterfall and then we toured and tasted wine at the Golan Heights Winery. At the time I was twenty years old, so this was my first formal experience wine tasting – besides my incredibly rosey cheeks, I held it together quite nicely. Over the next few days we visited Mt. Bental, we saw Haifa, Svat, and Jerusalem. Everywhere we explored was just a continuous culture shock, nothing felt real. We went River Rafting down the Jordan River, which was great until I hit my head on a low-hanging tree branch. I was aggressively knocked out of the raft and straight into the river, but I was swiftly and heroically rescued by an Israeli Soldier (which was absolutely worth the possible concussion). We visited the Western Wall, Yad Vashem on Mt. Herzl, and so much more. Throughout the week we slowly made our way down to the Negev Desert where we observed Shabbat (שבת) and spent the evening in a Bedouin Tent. We toured the desert on camel back, hiked to the top of Masada at four in the morning to watch the sunrise, and even floated in the Dead Sea. Finally, we spent our last day in Tel Aviv before heading back to America.
Although the experience was challenging and physically draining, it was extremely life changing. The entire time I felt like I was touring an elaborate movie set, I couldn’t believe a place like Israel actually existed. Everything completely amazed me. The incredible and awesomely diverse group I traveled with on Bus TL24-278 helped make my trip so memorable. Some day I do hope to return and see Israel on my own time, but my experience with everyone on Birthright was incomparable.