The alarm yells at me at 4:30am. I wipe the few hours of sleep away from my eyes. I sluggishly make my way into clothing and sneakers and join the team of sleepy walkers to the front door. We take a stroll to a small pathway that opens up to a bigger dirt road. And as I look up – I know I will never forget today.

The hike up Masada is one that is not only physically demanding, but spiritually exhilarating. I am surrounded by other tired smiles- but no one complains. Everyone teams up and makes the hour plus steep incline to the top. There is a feeling of exhaustion followed by an eye-opening calm at the top. The story of Masada still resonates in our culture today. There are no words once you reach the top and see that beautiful sunrise. The same view our ancestors looked out at centuries ago.

Mallory with Mifgash

The first time I hiked Masada was a very chilly winter morning in January of 2005. I was a squeaky, little, 18-year-old with a Southern drawl and wacky fashion. I signed up for Birthright Israel with 2 of my best friends. Our families said we could go- only if we went together- a best friend adventure. I was always the more extroverted friend and used my 10 days to make a few memories and get to know new faces. A lot of time has passed since my first trip to Israel – but that early morning view of Masada still glows in my mind.

Fast-forward 12 years and I found myself once again being called back to Israel. I don’t have any family there or a bigger connection other than it’s the ‘land of my people.’

“Now, as an alumna of the program, the Birthright Israel Atlanta Community Institute is one way I can give back to my local Jewish community and pay it forward.”

I participated in the Birthright Israel Atlanta Community Institute – a local leadership program modeled on the Birthright Israel Fellows program. We were introduced to the Birthright Israel experience in a whole new light. Now, as an alumna of the program, the Birthright Israel Atlanta Community Institute is one way I can give back to my local Jewish community and pay it forward. When I staff a trip, it is more than just planning, assisting with programming and encouraging my peers to take this journey, it is an opportunity for me to help another young Jewish adult ignite their passion for Israel, their Jewish identity and the Jewish people.

Mallory practicing yoga on the beach

Since becoming trip staff, I have led two niche Birthright Israel programs. I’m no longer the sleepy participant waking up at 4:30am—I’m the overly energetic group leader (pretending not to be so sleepy)—waking up at 4:00am to stir the herd. My role on the hike has become the helpful cheerleader. My full-time career is in health and wellness, so I use my passion to inspire others by staying towards the back and being the support system for those who might move slower or need help physically. I lovingly embrace this role. I want to show them they can share this experience at their own pace. The hike up Masada is difficult… but when I get to the top now I don’t just look out at the view- I look out at my participants faces and can see the impact the trip is having on them. Those few who know that was the ‘hardest thing they’ve ever done’ and I know it’s a memory they too will never forget.

It is moments like the hike up Masada that inspires me to continue sharing my time and energy with Birthright Israel. I’m coming up on my third trip with this October, and I can’t wait to inspire and cheer on another group of fresh eyes and excited faces in my beautiful homeland.

Update: Shortly after Mallory led another Birthright Israel trip, she met her fiancé and made aliyah. She now lives happily in Israel with him.