Over the last few years I've heard story after story about how Birthright has changed people's lives. From June 20th–July 1st I finally got to have my Birthright experience, and I have to say it is not one that I'll ever forget. When you speak to me in person (or on the phone/skype/etc) I'll probably tell you about all kinds of struggles/complaints I have about the trip. I did have struggles. I do have complaints (as if I wouldn't). Nonetheless, the ten days I just spent zooming around Israel with a group of strangers, whom I now feel are more like family, have been extremely impactful and ridiculously fun.
Entering into a new group of Jews always makes me very nervous. I feel self conscious because I wasn't raised with a lot of Jewish tradition. I wasn't bat mitzvahed, I don't know all the words to all the prayers and I don't have too many stories to share about a Jewish childhood. I'm always afraid of being "not Jewish enough". It is definitely an irrational fear because I'm almost never made to feel this way. Birthright was no exception. There were students with all kinds of Jewish backgrounds. One thing that really made me shed this fear of not being Jewish enough were the hayalim (חיילים), or soldiers, who came with us. Most of them hardly ever engage in "Jewish" activities the way American jews do. Simply existing as a Jew in the Jewish state includes plenty of jewishness. This is truly something beautiful.
Over the last year or so I've dedicated a huge portion of my time and energy to Israel. This has put a lot of ideas into my head about my Jewish faith, Israel as an idea, and Israelis as people. I have to admit that I was a bit scared that actually coming here would shatter them. Luckily, several of my experiences on Birthright have only strengthened them. Seeing the Kotel in person, touching the stones and praying made me truly realize that my "Jewish anxiety" was nothing more than a self-constructed paranoia. I have been and always will be completely connected to the Jewish people. We are all connected by something much more powerful than any of us. Visiting Har Herzl and hearing personal stories of loved ones lost, traveling through deserts to reach waterfalls and then bustling cities, and seeing the mixture of black hats, knit kippas, and cut-off shorts all walking the same sidewalks is just something completely unique. Israel is a one-of-a-kind place with a one-of-a-kind people.
It is hard for me to describe the fun I've had (and I'm sure you're a bit tired of reading) so here are some photos.