This is an article that I wrote shortly after my Birthright trip to Israel. I wrote this piece in order to reflect on my trip and critically think about what I had learned on it. I talk about how nervous I was to go on the trip at the beginning and how I mainly wanted to go to Israel to learn about the countries rich history. Yet this ended up being one of the most memorable trips I have been apart of and I made everlasting friendships along the way. Since this point, it has been important for me to write about impactful experiences so I am able to remember them for years to come. What makes this article special though is after my temple put my article in the monthly bulletin, the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires asked me if they could put my article in the Berkshire Jewish Voice. I was so happy to hear that people were enjoying my work and this article is one of my best reflection pieces I haw written to date.
Birthright Israel Trip Reflection
When I arrived at John F. Kennedy airport before my journey began, I had no idea what to expect. All I could see was that I was in a group full of strangers going to a foreign land that is associated with a lot of negative connotations. I felt out of my comfort zone and even thought to myself a couple of times, “What am I doing? Why didn’t I just stay home to spend more time with my family before I have to go back to school from winter break?” However, after landing at Ben Gurion airport in Tel-Aviv, what was in store for me was a trip of a lifetime that I will never forget.
Before this trip, one of the main reasons why I wanted to go to Israel was to fully understand what Israel means to me and to put a landscape to all the knowledge I had gained over the years in Hebrew school, NFTY, listening to sermons, and taking classes discussing this land’s history. Over the duration of this trip though, I began to realize that these questions are not answerable with the amount of time I was in Israel. Being there for only ten days, I was challenged by speakers, Israeli soldiers, and my peers to think about Israel not just as a land of the Jewish people but as a place that has induced change within the world. I learned that Israel a state the size of New Jersey has more tech startups than any other place in the world besides in the silicon valley. I learned that Israel is one of the world’s leaders in creating and producing skincare/beauty products used by millions of people. I learned about how Israel is one of the few places in the world where people are able to balance religion and modern innovation. Without Israel, the world we live in would be on a different trajectory
This is not to say though that Israel is a perfect country. Over the duration of this trip, it became clear to me that Israel is facing some grave issues that I would not be able to see without going there directly. For example, Israel is a segregated country. Nearly all of the Jewish and Palestinian populations live in different parts of Israel. The majority of Palestinians live within East Jerusalem and the West Bank while the Jewish population lives within West Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. This segregation was also prevalent within the Old City of Jerusalem as this small area is split up into four distinct sections based on religion including the Armenian Christians, the rest of the Christians, the Jews, and the Muslims.
Israel also faces issues between the ultra-religious Jewish people and its secular population. The best example of this is on the western wall. Although many people know that the western wall is segregated based on gender, I never realized how much more space and rights the men get at the western wall as opposed to women. The women’s side of the wall is much more crowded, nobody is there to help them wrap tefillin, and there is no library while on the men’s side of the wall, there is a plethora of text to read from, there is a lot of space to move around, and they’re a lot of people offering to help you wrap tefillin. After talking to the Israeli soldiers on my trip, I also got some more information on other arguments between the ultra-religious Jewish people and its secular population. This mainly revolved around the issue of Shabbat and what you should and should not be allowed to do on this holiday. For example, on Shabbat, there is no public transportation in Jerusalem, yet the Israeli government wants fewer people to buy cars. Another example of this is that on Shabbat, the religious Jewish people want the Jerusalem market closed entirely while the rest of the population wants it open seven days a week.
Although I had learned a lot about Israel on this trip about its innovations and myriad of issues it faces, I also have had some of the best experiences of my life within Israel. I got to hike Masada with my friends and see the Negev on one side and the Jordan River on the other. I got the chance to put mud on my body and float in the dead sea. I got the opportunity to converse with Israeli soldiers where we got to talk about our lives and ask each other questions with no bounds. I got the opportunity to meet Jewish people my age and experience Israel with them. This trip exceeded all of my wildest dreams.
At the beginning of the trip in the airport, the tour guide of our group told us that before you know it, you will be on the plane back home wondering where the time went. During this time, I did not believe him. I thought to myself, “how could a ten-day trip go by so fast?” But when I found myself back at the same airport ten days later, I fully understood what he meant. After making some of the best friends I have ever made, engaging in some of the most intense conversations I have ever been apart of, and exploring my Jewish identity with forty-seven other people it all ended within the snap of your fingers. My biggest takeaway from this trip was if you ever get the chance to go on Birthright, even if you question your decision as I did in the beginning, go anyway. This experience will change your life and help you understand the true importance of Israel in this world despite the problems it faces today. You will meet incredible people and engage in experiences you will never forget. Before I left for Israel, I seriously thought that I would never want to go back to Israel after this trip. Now, I yearn to go back to Israel sometime soon to see this land again in the near future. Boy, I could not have been more initially wrong. Thank you for reading.