The Last Missing Puzzle Piece
Meet One of Our Past West Coast Birthright Israel Participants
Katelyn Zielski lives in Marina Del Ray, California with her boyfriend and 2 dogs. When she is not managing and working at her home organizing and personal concierge company, Katelyn enjoys hiking, reading, cooking and traveling. As a recent convert to Judaism, Katelyn's Birthright Israel trip was the last missing puzzle piece before feeling complete.
To say that Birthright is a blast would be a vast understatement. The last 10 days undeniably have been one of the most memorable, heartwarming, and educational days of my life. I was granted the opportunity to meet 45 amazing people on my West Coast trip. I hoped that I could make a few connections and learn as well as teach some great things throughout the trip, and instead, I left with 45 new family members.
I hold Judaism extremely close to my heart, and practice this faith with a great passion that all the Israel Experts Birthright members saw from day 1 of meeting me. On July 12, 2016 I converted to Judaism after 2 ½ years of practicing. Upon converting, I tested my DNA to only find out that both of my parents are actually Jewish, so there was no need for me to convert, which I am grateful I did and would not change it if I could go back in time and do it all over again. I feel a deep connection to the religion, culture and traditions that date back 5777 years. But yet, I felt there was something missing. The best way to describe how I felt was like there was 1 more puzzle piece that I could not find to finish the puzzle, and that piece was visiting the beautiful land of Israel, which is OUR land.
Getting off the plane after over 20 hours of traveling, landing in a place so foreign from Los Angeles, so unfamiliar, with all these people whom I’ve just met, I figured I would be scared. But, instead I got this overpowering sense of calmness and only one thought ran through my mind, “I’m Home”. The 10 days of traveling are not easy, you are constantly on the go, from one place to the next and only spending a short time in one place- enough time for you to fall in love with the place and start planning your trip back to spend more time. We stayed in 2 different Kibbutzim which was an absolute amazing experience living among Jews and learning about their daily life on the Kibbutz. We stayed in a Bedouin tent which was an experience to say the least, staying in a tent with almost 50 people, in the middle of the desert, learning about how these people keep a Bedouin camp going is life changing. Here in America we are so privileged and it’s amazing seeing how other people live, and yet- they’re happier than most Americans! We rode camels and went out in Tel-Aviv. One of the best parts of this- you feel equal, you feel like one with Israel and Israelis. We all kept saying excitingly, “the Israeli’s think we live here because they keep speaking Hebrew to us!” All of us were so excited that we felt like we belonged in this place and are accepted. If you have ever felt it was hard to make a connection with someone- go on birthright. You make instant connections with “your people” who become family.
The most amazing experience I had and I can also say for all of us- was meeting 8 Israeli soldiers and living with them for 5 days. I never thought I would become so close with people so quick in my life, to the point where we all cried like babies when they left our group- because they are so welcoming, teach us so much about our people and land, and you see how PROUD they are of Israel. It’s been 5 days since I have been home, and all I can think about is how I want to go back to Israel, and be one with the land and people.
Meeting all these different people with different identities is overwhelming, but yet we all have 1 thing in common, being Jewish. Your limits are tested, your patience is tested, but at the end of it- after reflecting for days, I wish it never ended. The staff at Israel Experts is some of the nicest and knowledgeable people I have ever met. I loved this experience so much, that I am in the works of becoming a staff member, because I can’t get enough. I want more experiences, more destinations in Israel, more connections with people, and I want to teach people about our land and people.
I am blessed enough to be able to travel the world frequently, and Birthright is one of the most amazing adventures I have ever been on. It’s a free trip- with no catch, that you get to experience with amazing people, and learn so much. Everyday each one of us cried when we realized how much this land means to us, and there were some people that said “I see how most of you make connections right away to the land, and I am waiting for my turn to make a connection”, and in the middle of the trip, or towards the end of the trip- there was that ONE place, or that ONE story that finally connected them to this land. I strongly encourage everyone to take advantage of this experience and make the best of it. Who knows- maybe you will see me on the trip one day- and I can tell you myself how much you will get out of this trip. Do it for you, do it for your family, and most of all do it so you can see the land that our ancestors fought so hard to keep and have as ours. I promise you- that you will NOT regret it.