This is my blog REVIVAL
Ah! Long time, no see. I am so excited to be blogging again! What’s the occasion you may ask? Well, I have just returned from a crazy, amazing adventure and am feeling ~inspired~! I went on Birthright which is a 10 day trip to Israel which is pretty cool in of itself but it gets better- this trip costs about $3,000 per person but all expenses are paid aka it’s free!!! Pretty incredible, right? Through donors and donations, this has been made possible for 18 years and many more to come. After 10 wonderful days in the Holy Land, my travels took me to Europe (more specifically- Prague, Vienna, Budapest and Santorini)! I know this all sounds too good to be true and you are probably thinking it can’t possibly get any better than this. But wait, it does. My best friend and partner in crime did it all with me. So yeah, life is pretty good right now!
My goals for this trip were the following:
- Smile always
- Be as open as possible
- Get out of your comfort zone!
- Be present and live in the moment
- Learn, learn, and learn
Birthright was overwhelming incredible, eye-opening, and special. It is totally deserving of a blog post. I am going to try to keep it concise and hit the highlights which is more difficult than it sounds. So please, bear with me.
There are many ways to experience Birthright which is available to all people with a Jewish background between the ages of 18 to 26. I chose to go with Shorashim which is a provider that puts a great emphasis on experiencing Israel with of Israelis. Most, if not all, trips include the introduction to IDF soldiers. However, Shorashim is special because the soldiers are included on the trip from start to finish- they are completely immersed in the group of Americans and travel through Israel with us. This changed and enhanced my experience more than I can begin to describe.
Highlight #1: My group – Shorashim Bus 350 – was made up of 43 young American adults and 7 Israeli soldiers. We were guided by two women who are passionate about Israel (one who happened to be training to be a rabbi) and one Israeli tour guide. I feel so lucky that I was a part of this group because these people absolutely made the experience for me. I had low expectations but knew I would be okay regardless because I had my best friend. I was completely blown away by all the amazing people I met. I formed some really special friendships with both Americans and Israelis. I spent 10 days laughing and crying harder than I had in a very long time. Together, we made so many memories that I will never forget.
Highlight #2: As I mentioned, Israeli soldiers were with us the whole time and made Bus 350 what it was. 1 of our 7 soldier friends was not Jewish. This is very uncommon as the nature of Birthright surrounds Judaism. His name was Hamzi and he was a Druze. This is a faith that I had never heard of as I am confident many of you haven’t either. Well I will try to inform you with my new, limited knowledge. Druze are an Arab people who reside in the Middle East and practice a form of faith. They believe in past lives and that your soul always lives on. They believe that when one passes away, their soul will continue on in someone new. And because of this belief, they do not fear death. Druze are also unique in that they have always viewed men and women as equals. They do not permit divorce nor do they permit conversion from the religion. Their religious practices are very secretive so there was much that they could not reveal to us but everything we did learn was eye-opening for all of us.
Hamzi and his family invited our group of 50 people to their village and to their house. This was honestly one of the most incredible experiences of my life to date. We arrived to their Druze Village called Yirka which is in the north of the country. When we got to their lovely home, we were so warmly greeted by a feast. When I say a feast, I mean a literal feast. There was SO much food that they could’ve fed the entire village. We were overwhelmed by their generosity and uncomfortably full. The family members that were confident in their English abilities explained to us about the Druze people. We sat there in awe of the people and the food and their beautiful home and this experience as a whole. They were so proud to share their history and their home with us. And to top it off, Hamzi’s little niece who is an aspiring popstar performed a song for us. It was her proudest moment and her family was beaming. Many of us (obviously including me) were overcome with emotions and found ourselves crying. I will never forget our time in Yirka!
Highlight #3: Shabbat at the Western Wall and everything about Jerusalem
This was something that I had been anxiously waiting for before we even arrived in Israel. Honestly, experiencing Shabbat at the Western Wall is something I had always heard and learned about but I never imagined it ever being a reality for me. For those of you that haven’t had the chance yet to visit the Western Wall, let me explain what it is like. The wall is divided into two sections: one for men and one for women. The section for men is twice the size of the section for women. But not only the size is different- the experience is different. The men are singing and praying all together. It sounds so joyful. In stark contrast, the women are almost all crying. They appear burdened and heavy. It is silent on this side apart from the audible sobs of the praying women heaving their bodies on to the wall. I was totally shocked, especially after I found myself feeling the same type of inexplicable sorrow and heaviness as my hand touched the wall. I tucked my envelope filled with many prayers into the wall, shed a tear, rejoined my group and felt a sense of inexplicable relief.
The group reunited at a new section of the wall that is the egalitarian section some ways away from the main area. It is the area underneath the white in the photograph. I mentioned that one of the trip leaders was a rabbi in-training so she led us in a few songs. We were all hugging, swaying and crying as we sang songs about peace. As this was going on, overhead you could hear the Muslims praying on the other side of the wall. This hit me hard and I can still tap into this haunted feeling. It felt so metaphorical that we were praying and singing and living as their prayers loudly hung above. It is also bone-chilling to think that these peoples are both praying at this one wall and that is the only thing separating them. All we can do is pray and hope for peace. I am not sure how to put words to the thoughts and feelings that were running through my head at this moment but I wanted to share this to see if it would resonate with any of you.
As for Jerusalem – the city just feels special. Again, this is almost impossible to explain. I felt as though I had been there before. This may sound totally ridiculous but if you have ever experienced that feeling, you know exactly what I mean. If not, I hope that one day, you do. Jerusalem, I will be back again.
Highlight #4: Masada and the Dead Sea are also deserving of a feature on this post. We woke up at 3:30am and hiked Masada in the dark so that we could see the sunrise at the top. The hike itself was hard as s**t which no one told me. I quickly figured that out on my own. The sunrise was magical. And there is no one that I would have rather experienced that with than my 49 new friends.
The day only got better when we headed from Masada to the Dead Sea. We had been joking around that we were practicing floating beforehand because none of us expected for it be anything special. But boy were we wrong. I feel like I have written so much that I don’t have the words to explain so many different things about this trip but this is another situation where I am not sure how to describe what it was like. The ground was all salt. You could reach down and pick up rocks of pure salt. And floating was an incredible sensation. In the deeper areas, you could force yourself down and would bob right back up. It was almost difficult to keep your feet on the ground because you are just so buoyant. It is truly heartbreaking that the Dead Sea is dying but it was totally visible. I feel so lucky to have been!
Highlight #5: The last night of the trip was spent celebrating the Birthright Mega Event. All of the Birthright groups in Jerusalem come and it is a huge celebration that happens once every summer. To be honest, we were all dreading this. It was a 6-hour event and sounded totally lame. But it turned out to be arguably the most fun I had the whole time. We were in an open-air arena and all of the sudden, a man resembling Israeli Ryan Seacrest took the stage. He announced the event and people went wild. Next flames were shooting out of the stage and the most famous singer in all of Israel right now performed her song that won a competition called Eurovision. The competition is a big deal and the song is AWESOME. It’s called I’m Not Your Toy and is all about girl power. I highly recommend looking it up.
We were singing along, standing on our chairs and dancing our hearts out. One of the biggest Birthright donors spoke and then it turned into the best concert/rave I have ever been to. I felt like I was living the scene in the Lizzie McGuire Movie where she performs in the Colosseum. Dancers were appearing out of nowhere, lights were going crazy, the music was blaring. We didn’t spend hardly any time in our chairs because we were dancing and jumping the whole time. This was the most unexpected fun I have ever had and I was so lucky to share it with these people. I couldn’t imagine a better ending to our time together.
Highlight #6: The food. If you know me at all, you know I appreciate good food. In fact, I basically live meal to meal. Food is important to me and let me tell you: Israeli food did not disappoint. The falafel, the hummus, the shawarma- the BEST I have ever had and will ever have. And don’t even get me started on the iced coffee. I am sad to say it but there is just no way that Sabra Hummus will cut it for me anymore.
Side note: Yes, I did feel safe. Really and truly.
And I am constantly praying for peace in the Middle East.
I could write about this trip for hours. I feel knowledgeable, worldly and connected after this experience. I know how lucky I am and did not take this trip for granted but I hope so badly that I get the chance to return one day.
I know this was rather lengthy so if you made it to the end, thank you so much for hanging in there. I hope you enjoyed!