by Jackie Kalter
Going to Israel was a given for me because, well, I’m Jewish. I knew growing up that I needed, and wanted, to travel at some point in my young adult life to the place where so much of my family and history were created. Having Birthright as an option made it that much easier.
After being home for some time now I really understand the hype and reasons we learn for so many years about the amazing country of Israel. I attended religious school from the age of four until my Bat Mitzvah. We always had a Hebrew class, for the obvious, and a culture class for the more complicated of topics. Each year it varied, from the holidays to the Holocaust, and of course the majority of the material covered the tiny country where so much history was created.
Not until my amazing ten-day trip with Kesher did I realize what I had been learning about for so many years and why we have been learning about it. You read about countries and their history in textbooks, but actually having the opportunity to travel and discover everything in person brings the textbooks and stories to life. My journey was tangible. We were actually in the Old City and stood where the first temple used to be. We prayed at the Western Wall and had experiences like never before. Those are the things you hear about growing up, but physically being there meant so much more.
Usually people travel on their trip with a sibling, a best friend, or no familiar faces at all. I was so fortunate to have been with eight of my closest friends from the URJ Kutz Camp. Being with friends and fellow staff members added to my excitement and anticipation for my time in Israel. I honestly didn’t know what to expect.
I would have to say the most empowering part of my whole trip, though, was not visiting a particular place or completing a particular task. It was the feeling deep within me when I stepped off the ten-hour plane ride and into the Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv with, which I later found out to be, the greatest people in the world. That feeling I had was like none I have ever felt before. I had been waiting for years to go on this trip of a lifetime and I was finally on it. And it didn’t feel real.
Choosing a favorite part isn’t remotely possible simply because each adventure was a new experience and brought about new challenges to face. Not only did we learn the facts, we were reminded time and time again to think about how each place and experience tied into our own. Being on the bus before five in the morning to climb Masada at sunrise made me realize that we are strong and up for challenges. Watching that sunrise all singing Modeh Ani L’fah Necha brought me in touch with my thoughts, and made me believe that there are wonderful places, people and ideas all over the world. Attending the Kotel, praying there, observing the women around myself made me think about the individual people and the notes every person sticks in the little crevasses in the wall. Visiting Yad Vashem brought emotions and more history to life, and adds another country to my list of where my tears have ended up.
These little things are what made the trip the most inspiring and unforgettable for all of us. I felt like I belonged there, despite the language barrier we all have something in common. We as Jewish people are so lucky to have the chance to travel across the world to a place, that I can now call home. Until next time, Israel.