I am typically more of a guarded person when I encounter people new to me. When I was given the opportunity to participate in Birthright Israel as an Israeli (Mifgash participant), I jumped at it. As a child, I was always interested to learn what was happening in the United States. My uncle lived there for a time and he told me stories about the people there, and it made me excited to meet Americans.
I knew I had to step outside of my comfort zone to get the most out of this experience. When I imagined all 40 Americans together with the other Israeli soldiers and me, I felt a sense of responsibility to host them in my home, Israel. All the walls that I previously put up for new people quickly came down. I never expected that I would meet the Americans and feel so comfortable with them after almost no time at all.
In Jaffa early on in the trip, I shared my mother’s homemade chocolate candy. This personal connection was enjoyed by all and helped my Birthright Israel group to form connections with one another. Conversations started to become more normal and the group instantly became family.
My social ease helped others to come out their shells, too. Another Israeli participant did not have such a strong command of English and that caused him to be quieter than normal. Once he saw that I was more outgoing, it pushed him to be more open. Even though we were not all speaking one language at the same level, there were experiences where words are not important. At Yad Vashem, everyone in the group was crying and we felt each other’s emotions, displaying how we can share the same experience without talking.
Visiting the Western Wall, I did not expect to feel how I did. Growing up, I went with my class to the Western Wall every year. Then my visits were just a different day of the year. On Birthright Israel, I saw in the Americans’ eyes how different it was for them. The experience opened areas inside their hearts that brought them so close to Israel and so close to Judaism. Seeing their reactions reminded me that we, the Jewish people are one. I saw through the Americans’ eyes the stories they knew about Judaism become reality.
Being at the Western Wall with my Birthright Israel group made me feel how fortunate I am to have this place so close me and made me appreciate the special places and things I have in my life.
When I came home after the trip, I began to slowly process an experience that was difficult to comprehend. I knew it was a turning point in my life and I needed to make a conclusion for myself of what to do.
After the trip, I had an easier experience with new people I meet. Birthright Israel made me be more open-minded and not create reasons to not be someone’s friend. I realized that opening myself up made things happen in my life and opened the door for growth.
I knew I needed to preserve the connections I had made because after 10 days. I felt a pull to visit the community in Florida where my group was from and tell stories, give lectures, and work with Jewish community. Now knowing people who live there gives me a more personal perspective. Unfortunately, the Coronavirus pandemic has postponed these plans, but I continue to look ahead each day on when I can visit Florida.
I want other soldiers to know this opportunity exists and they must claim it as their own. To go outside of the day-to-day routine as a soldier is important, especially to know other people and other cultures, but also to see the commonalities because we are all Jews. For this reason, I always encourage friends who are still in the IDF to take advantage of this life-changing experience.
There aren’t enough words to express how much I appreciate the generous donors who supported my Birthright Israel experience. These supporters are performing a mitzvah. They help to create an environment that no matter how far away physically we live from one another, I still feel so close and like I am among my many neighbors. Thank you!