When I realized that reading did not come easily to my oldest daughter Yahel, who is now 7, my heart broke just a little. I knew with the right support she could catch up. It was never about her being the brightest in class. Or a competition of who could read fastest. I was sad for the world I wanted her to discover. The same world I discovered each time I opened the first chapter of a new book as a child. The chapters of books to me were little windows into a world of dreams and imaginations.
I vividly remember sitting in our 2-bedroom apartment in Queens, New York and dreaming of a world beyond the window guards I stared out past.
A world where I could write my own destiny.
I learned very early on that the first chapter in any new book is critical. If we are honest, it often dictates if we will invest the time in reading the book in its entirety.
There is this spark that happens as we read through those first lines. Sometimes its intrigue, other times humor, and often just a good hunch that we are in for more. And rarely, so rarely, we fall in love in our new adventure in those very first few pages.
For me, my first chapter with Israel was all of those.
On January 9, 2004, I began my Israel story with Birthright Israel. I was nearly 19 years old, a college freshman and full of dreams larger than life. I stepped off a plane in Israel for the first time and quite simply fell in love. In the 10 days, I was on Birthright Israel, there was not simply one moment but so many moments that were a part of this first chapter.
The moment I stood at the Western Wall for the first time and ran my fingers along its crevasses.
Dancing in a bar with other people my age, from all walks of life. Nothing in common but an experience that would bond us in indescribable ways.
The conversation late into the night with my guard, who would later become my husband…
Getting back on the plane to New York and literally feeling as if I was leaving a part of me behind.
In the nearly 17 years since my Birthright Israel experience, life’s journey found me moving to Israel permanently. My trip will always be my first chapter and so much more. There is so much complexity to Israel. There are remarkable moments. There are heartbreaking moments.
What connected me to Israel in such a deep way was the sense of resilience. And truly feeling, for the first time in my life, part of a story which I had the power to write. Chapter 1 is about connecting, feeling a part of a story. The Birthright Israel experience is the story for each of us that has not yet been written. The remaining chapters are yours to dictate but that first one, it is a gift greater than what I could ever have imagined and one I wish for as many others as possible.