I will always have a passion for traveling. I’ve lived in Philadelphia all my life and have always enjoyed exploring other states and countries. A few years ago, my parents and I discussed the possibility that I would go on Birthright Israel. I was mildly anxious as we took the idea and started to finalize it. It would have been the farthest I’ve been from home, and I had limited ideas for what to expect.
However, any and all anxieties went out the window very early on in the trip. For these and several other reasons, I am very happy that I had this amazing experience.
The trip was taken with forty-five young adults, most of whom were from cities along the United States’ East Coast, including Boston, Philadelphia, Gainesville, and New York. At the very beginning, we were joined by a handful of Israelis who accompanied us for the entire trip. This helped me feel connected to the country in a stronger way than I would have thought without the Israelis. Both the Americans and Israelis were able to relate to each other by exchanging cultural norms and beliefs, sharing music, and playing games, among other activities.
The activities and the people who participated in this trip with me are the main things that made this trip unforgettable. Although I had never met any of these people before, they felt like old friends by no later than the third day.
As we spent time together both as a large group and in smaller groups, I found that we had much in common and put aside our differences to squeeze the most out of every day. When I had a few minutes to myself, I would reflect on the days’ experiences and came up with the following comment that I shared with the group. “At the end of every day, I think, ‘How are we going to top today?’ The next day comes, and we do!” The laughter and scattered applause this received was much appreciated.
One of our most enjoyable activities was hiking up Masada two hours before sunrise and literally feeling as if I was on top of the world. The sun rises and sets every day, but seeing it rise on top of a mountain very far from home, alters your perception of such an everyday event.
This trip also reinforced how strong and vital my Jewish identity is to me. At the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem, which may be the best museum I’ll ever visit, it was discussed that smashing a glass at a Jewish wedding just before celebrating is meant to represent the contrast of life; how the sun only shines in contrast to the darkness. This experience celebrates and honors not only the struggles and triumphs Jews have endured but the struggles and triumphs humans endure.
Halfway through this trip, we slept in Bedouin tents in the middle of The Negev. Outside the tent, there was a campfire, and one of the Israelis passed her guitar around. One of my great hobbies for several years has been guitar, and I had brought some of the chords to songs I’ve learned, hoping I’d be able to play them. What I did not expect is that my fellow travelers would be so impressed that I would play for an hour and a half!
Upon hearing my guitar skills and as this trip was taken at the end of 2018, the staff on this trip asked me if I knew any songs about intentions, wishes or anything else with the New Year in mind. I instantly thought of “I Lived,” written and performed by OneRepublic.
The lead singer, Ryan Tedder, wrote it when his son was two years old, in hopes that if anything happened to Tedder, his son would know what Tedder hoped for him. At the beginning of our last day together, I was honored to play the song for my fellow travelers.
The knowledge I had that stepping out of one’s comfort zone is essential for personal growth was reinforced and expanded on with Birthright Israel. This is in no small part due to how lovely and welcoming the people, sights, activities, and food were. It felt similar to a trip I would have taken with my family, especially as the group started to become a family.
I have stayed in touch with many of those I met on Birthright, including one who was able to come to a play I participated in a few months ago and others from New York that make me love that city far more than I already do.
In short, this trip was a great many things at once. It was challenging, exciting, thought-provoking, and emotional. I went into it cold and left very warm, meaning I did not know anyone nor what to expect and left knowing everyone and having an unparalleled experience.
This trip threw me out of my comfort zone but in a way that was relatable and manageable. It allowed me to be myself while walking in other’s shoes. And it reinforced not only what it means to be Jewish but what it means to be human.
I am as grateful for Birthright Israel months after it as I was during it.
Thank you and Shana Tova.
Here are the lyrics to “I Lived”
Hope when you take that jump, you don’t fear the fall. Hope when the water rises, you build a wall. Hope when the crowd screams out, they’re screaming your name. Hope if everybody runs, you choose to stay. Hope that you fall in love and it hurts so bad. The only way you can know, you give it all you have. And I hope that you don’t suffer but take the pain. Hope when the moment comes, you’ll say
I did it all. I did it all. I owned every second that this world could give. I saw so many places, the things that I did. With every broken bone, I swear I lived.
Hope that you spend your days but they all add up. And when that sun goes
down, hope you raise your cup. I wish that I could witness all your joy and all your pain but until my moment comes, I’ll say
Whatever you want to do, I’ll be here right next to you. No matter what
comes our way, I know we’ll be okay. Whatever you want to do, I’ll be here right next to you. No matter what comes our way, I hope that you can say
Max is from Philadelphia, PA where he works as a counselor. He is a cinema and theater enthusiast and performs at local theaters and open mic nights.