As a native born Israeli who loves hiking and learning about Israel’s history – it’s not so easy to surprise me when it comes to traveling around the country. But this Taglit-Birthright Israel: Hillel trip, or more correctly – journey, of Jan. 2012 with GMU students and other students has done it.
10 amazing days in Israel are over now and I’m writing, trying to understand what this amazing experience meant for me and how come it made me see Israel in such a different light then I’m used to. I’m trying to do all that – in a short time before I get back to the condensed, busy and amazing routine of being the JCCNV Community Shlicha and GMU Israel Fellow.
Thinking about it I understand that what made this journey so special was the basic fact that for many of the students who were on it – it was the first time coming to Israel, the Jewish home land they have only heard about. Another part of the students on our bus have never gotten a profound Jewish education and this was their first real opportunity to explore this part of their identity, in a special place and with special people – people like them, and Israeli soldiers who joined us for a half of the journey.
It was amazing for me to see Israel and Israelis through the student’s eyes. To see them making new friends with other students as well as the Israelis, learning about places in Israel, asking themselves questions and talking about the different answers with their friends, looking at what it means to be a majority in this special country, and enjoying things they have never done before.
One of the most powerful moments for me and also for some of the students was going at night to a quiet and remote place in the Negev desert. Getting a bit away from the Bedouin tent where we spent the night, allowed us to see the amazing sky and stars of a clear night. We could see very clearly many stars systems and we learned a bit about them and how to find our way in the dessert according to them. Then the darkness and the size of the dessert were less intimidating and we could connect more to the spiritual atmosphere and to the long connection of the dessert to the Jewish people. We took a few minutes for ourselves to think. It came out as very special moments for us, being alone and together, being silent, personal and deep.I want to thank everyone who made this trip possible for me and for the students, and hope that for all of us going on this special journey this was just the beginning of a long, life-long hopefully, connection to ourselves, our Judaism and to the state of Israel.