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Just Go and Find Out

07.31.2017
Sam Schwarz
Sam Schwarz Birthright Israel

“What was you favorite part of Israel.” It’s been the nonstop question that I have received since returning from my trip on June 25th, and I still don’t think I have an answer to it. I didn’t have any expectations when I left for Israel on June 11th from JFK. I didn’t know anyone on the trip, I wasn’t expecting to “find myself”, I wasn’t looking to change my identity in any way, I just wanted to see a land that I had never been to and to eat a lot of good food. 

There are a few things that I should preface my takeaway from Israel with. I grew up with a Jewish father and Christian mother, I had a bar mitzvah and was confirmed, I have never and never plan on keeping kosher, I don’t require myself to marry a Jewish wife but would like my kids to be Jewish, and I’m not sure if I believe in God. I think these are all important things to state because they are such commonly asked questions in the Jewish community, yet in my opinion don’t really quantify how “Jewish” you are. I remember growing up and having people tell me that because my mom wasn’t Jewish that I wasn’t fully Jewish, yet I have never considered myself anything else.

I think that a better question to ask, rather than “what was your favorite part of Israel” would be “what was the most important part of your trip to Israel.” They are very similar questions and I’m still not sure if I can come up with just one answer, however, it implies getting something of worth out of the experience rather than just enjoying it. I had a great time hanging on the beach in Tel Aviv, eating food from the markets in Jerusalem, and playing soccer with new Israeli friends on Shabbat, but those were fun times, not necessarily important. 

What I believe to have been the most important part of my trip was visiting the Kibbutz at Nahal Oz, which is approximately 800 meters from Gaza. A kibbutz where much of the population has left due to the fact that during the last time of war it was being mortared roughly forty times a day, with only about three seconds to seek cover after hearing the alarm go off, if it went off. The sixteen-year-old brother of our tour guide, Noam Dahary, voluntarily moved to this Kibbutz in order to maintain a young population that would help with the upkeep of the community, despite the inherent danger of living in an area so close to the Gaza Strip. Hearing his story put the differences of Israeli youth and American youth into perspective and allowed for me to think of the true difficulties that people may be facing in their daily lives. The behavior of Noam’s brother is reflective of the type of self-sacrifice and sense of community that is so unique to Israel. I have traveled to many different countries around the world, however, nowhere have I felt the sense of national pride and community more than in Israel. 

The other important detail of my experience of Israel that I have brought back with me to the United States is the fact the media does not depict Israel in a fair or truthful way. This first occurred to me on the second day of our trip while we were floating rafts down a river in the north of Israel. I felt safe throughout my entire trip, even during my extended time while walking the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem at 2A.M. I have told everyone that I have talked to about my experience that in no way is it like what we see on TV or hear about on the news, the reality is that it is a beautiful country full of amazing food, people and culture and everyone should go visit as soon as possible. I actually just received a text yesterday (July 26th) from one of my best friends from college (who is not Jewish) saying that he booked a two-week visit in October after we have spent so much time talking about my trip. 

I could keep on writing about my stay in Israel because I think there were so many important moments, yet my important moments are probably vastly different from everyone else’s. Maybe that’s the main takeaway of the trip, that even though the forty-five people on the trip have different backgrounds and various levels of religiousness, Israel can teach us all something about each other and ourselves. I don’t know what you will get out of your first or next trip to Israel, so just go and find out.  

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