A couple weeks ago I returned home from my second trip to Israel. I could have written this post then, when everything was still fresh in my mind and home didn’t quite feel real again yet. I wanted to wait till now, though, so that I could get used to real life again, so that I could look back on my trip and remember the things that were truly important (like hummus).
The trip I went on was called Birthright. It is a ten day trip offered to Jews, and it’s free. That’s how important Israel is to Jews. The country, along with private citizens, pay for Jews to come to Israel and experience the country in a way that the media never shows us. In Hebrew, the trip is called Taglit. Taglit means discovery, and that was exactly what this trip offered. It gave me, and the other forty North Americans and eight Israelis, a chance to discover Israel, to discover Judaism, to discover ourselves.
I could spend all day talking about the things we did there. We visited the Old City of Jerusalem, visited a desert oasis, rode camels, slept in a Bedouin tent, climbed Mt. Masada and watched the sun rise, swam in the Dead Sea, experienced the Tel Aviv nightlife, and so many other things. That’s not to mention the food. I could spend a day alone talking about hummus, falafel, shawarma, pita, bamba, and, again, so many other things. All of those things, however, are surface discoveries. They are memories that will fade over time. I will forget how uncomfortable riding a camel actually is. I will forget how soft my skin was when I washed off the Dead Sea mud. I will forget what the sun looks like rising over mountaintop ruins that are thousands of years old. I will forget how good Yemenite hummus is compared to Sabra (no offense, Sabra). What I won’t forget are the things I learned there. Israel has problems, just like everywhere else. The conflict with Palestine is not the only thing to focus on in Israel, just like we often focus on the wrong things in our lives. There are some things worth fighting for. Family is everything. Judaism is more than its stereotypes. It is a culture, a way of life. Questioning what we don’t understand should be encouraged, not punished. We need to remember our past so we don’t make the same mistakes. Learning and discovering is an active process. We can’t allow ourselves to become so complacent that we stop moving forward.
Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our lives, so comfortable in our routines, that we stop noticing the world around us. We stop trying new things. Traveling helps remind us what we love about our homes, but it also introduces us to new things. Unfortunately, traveling is not something most of us can do often. Fortunately, though, most of us also don’t need to travel far to break our routines. So go somewhere different for lunch (have some hummus), take the long way home, explore a neighboring city, listen to a new band, go on a hike, buy yourself that thing you’ve been wanting forever but haven’t been able to justify. Read the news, educate yourself, contribute to your community. There are so many different ways to keep your life exciting and discover new things. You just have to be willing to try.
This was not my first time in Israel. Some things were familiar to me, some things we completely new. This country has so much to offer, so much to discover, and it will always have a place in my heart. It will always be home. It is hard to describe to a non-Jew what Israel means to me, to Jews everywhere, but many of use the word “home.” It is the one place in the world we can go to and move from the minority to the majority. It is the one place we have that was created for us. Coming home from Israel is an interesting feeling. It feels more like leaving home, actually, like when your parents are divorced and you split your time between two homes. I’m back in America now, but Israel is still home, and I will keep its lessons with me. Eventually I will go back, and I will learn new things and bring them back to my daily life here. Until then, however, I will do my best to remember the important things (and to find some quality hummus). And if you ever get the chance to go on Birthright, DO IT, and savor it. You only Birthright once.