A Life Changing Trip
Get ready for an unorthodox opinion, but the best part of my life-changing birthright trip was that I learned to be happy with alone-time. Stay with me here, y'all, though it might be hard because I know we hear "alone" and immediately equate that sensation to "friendless" or "lonely." But my trip on good 'ole #IR36305 taught me that alone can be a beautiful thing.
We wouldn't know good if we didn't know bad. We wouldn't know joy if we didn't know pain. These are thoughts my amateur philosopher noggin grappled with pre-Taglit, but being in a such a conflicted, life-or-death place as the highly contested desert lands of Israel really brought it home. We wouldn't know "together" if we didn't know "alone."
When you are on a tour bus surrounded by a bunch of people around your age (who are probably dancing 75% of the time to Tudo Bom), you find yourself a part of a beautiful and new community. As you debate who gets the first shower in your kibbutz hotel room, or gab about family pets while bussing through lands you could never have even imagined, or try to learn sababa Hebrew slang from the Israeli group members— you become more connected to members of this new family. Here you are, kicking it on a bus with a bunch of Jews you may have never met in your ordinary life. And just like that you're sharing a raft on the Jordan River, splitting hamshuka (that glorious hybrid of hummus and shakshuka you never even considered), having an intense discussion about marrying a Jewish person, the possibilities seem endless — who'd have thunk it?
The community isn't perfect, but a lot of times, that's because of your own preconceived fears about yourself. Preconceived fears or not, still it will happen — that sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach when no one will sit next to you on the bus, or no one wants to eat Dr. Shakshuka with you (fools!), or you make a circumcision joke that doesn't get even one chuckle. But that imperfection is what makes you even more grateful and aware of the countless good times like when you're dancing your butts off in Tel Aviv, or playing a vicious game of water polo in the kibbutz pool, or singing your favorite Shabbat songs together as an impromptu family.
And if you do start to feel lonely, then it turns out to be a beautiful thing to lean into. For example, during our Shabbat free time at Sde Boker, I was beginning to feel a little overwhelmed by constantly being surrounded by people, no matter how delightful they may have been. I chose to go for a walk and ended up reclining in a beautiful green meadow. I woke up an hour later to learn I had new neighbors, a herd of peaceful ibex. These horned cuties are extra skittish, and there's no way I would have experienced such tranquility if it weren't for my solo status.
My absolute favorite part of the trip was in the desert right outside of the Bedouin tent experience, Kfar Hanokdim. Our spectacular guide, Amittai took us on a stargazing walk. What would have been unforgettable enough with the trust games and beautiful darkness, was made even more intense by private mediation. Amittai instructed us to wander as far as 30 meters out from the group and to sit or stand by ourselves with ourselves — alone but surrounded. I sat cross-legged in the ancient sand, thinking so deeply about my new community, and how amazing it was to be all alive together in this moment. We were separate but alone, all universes to ourselves in this amazing universe.
Birthright taught me to be proud of myself no matter what I faced. It taught me that being alone is just as important as being surrounded and that you can be alone while surrounded. Most importantly I learned that both sides of the coin make for a fulfilled person.
It's almost more than two weeks since the trip, and I've already spent 75% of my time home reminiscing about my trip, or listening to Max's Spotify station "Yalla in the Sababa," or missing my new family. I don't usually go for the G-d thing or hashtags, but I feel #blessed #ir36503 #israelexperts