Now that I’m back in America for several days, how do I feel? What do I do now with this experience? What differences or similarities do I recognize more now that I’ve spent time in both Israel and my own urban American Jewish community? Why do I feel that Discovery is an important trip? How has it changed/strengthened my Jewish identity and connection to Israel?
These first few days home I have been sharing my experience with my close family and friends as I round out my jetlag. I have been encouraging everyone I know to read my blogs. I believe my writings capture my trip, as much as one can without the three-dimensional sights, sounds, tastes, and smells of a place. I also look forward to forcing my teachers to read my blogs (they will enjoy them, no doubt) once school begins in September.
Right before our last Shabbat, we toured many essential sites to the birth of the modern state of Israel. We went to Mount Herzl to pay our respects to Theodor Herzl and all of those who have perished fighting for Zionism. What particularly saddened me was the memorial at Yad Vashem to the Jewish children who were murdered by the Nazis: one million. I can never fathom how there can be such hate in the world. When I arrived at Michael Levin’s grave, an American soldier who lost his life while serving in the IDF, I felt oh so very proud–proud that a young man like Levin was willing to put his life on the line to protect the Jewish homeland.
After visiting Mount Herzl, Leor and I were whisked away to Hadassah Hospital. The hospital was beautiful. Marc Chagall’s stained glass windows, left me in awe; I found them to be more inspiring and beautiful than his work at Lincoln Center here in New York. We learned about the precise detail and thought behind each window, representing each of Jacob’s twelve sons. After gazing up at these marvels, we visited a patient who broke his foot and was currently recovering from it. It was right before Shabbat, which is when a band comes to the hospital and plays for Hadassah’s patients. Leor and I were roped in by the band and we all sang for this, well, stranger. After the lovely tour of Hadassah, Machon and Discovery had Shabbat together. It was our last Shabbat and we got to spend it overlooking Jerusalem, as one big giant Jewish-American family. Saturday morning we attended services at an Israeli synagogue. I found it surprisingly laid back and much less observant than the synagogue I belong to presently. We witnessed a bar mitzvah, which was very sweet. The rest of the day we relaxed and packed for our departure that night. We reminisced on the times we had and how much we were going to miss each other.
As I chow down on this abnormally large peach, dog by my side, I can’t help but be upset. Today is my mother’s birthday. For it, I treated her to coffee and shakshuka (her first!) at Aroma, an Israeli coffee chain. Yes, the Ice Aroma was delicious, and I thank my madricha for introducing me to it, but I am having profound Israel withdrawal. I have been blasting Golden Boy and Tel Aviv throughout my apartment. I am glued to my phone not because I am a millennial (in fact, I won’t allow anyone to use their cellphone during a meal!), but because I miss my friends so much and love seeing their snapchats. It has been three days since I have returned home, but I am still getting over jetlag. When I look back on where I was three days ago, it’s weird to say that I was praying at the Kotel. It has been hard for me to adjust to not seeing my friends’ faces when I wake up. I still can’t accept the fact that there isn’t Israeli salad at every meal I eat.
There are obviously more differences than similarities now that I’ve spent time in both Israel and New York. The greatest similarity is the feeling that Israel is an America of Jews (and other wonderful cultures). America is a Christian Democracy; Israel is a Jewish Democracy.
The differences are clear: the pita and hummus is not nearly as good even in New York. However it’s pretty hot in both places. As for differences between Israel and my own Jewish community… For starters, I find that the Israeli community is much more accepting than my own because of its size. Although I live in New York, one of the most densely populated Jewish community, I am not the majority. In Israel I was, and though it saddens me to say this, I really enjoyed it. I liked seeing stars of David at local jewelry stores. I found it comforting when the cashier at the gas station wished me a Shabbat Shalom. I also appreciated the fact that I didn’t have to defend Israel’s skepticism about Iran. On that note, I now have a better understanding of why Muslims find it hard to live in Israel. Although a very accepting society, it is never easy being the minority, even in a democracy.
Discovery was special in many ways. We were the only group to go to Greece. I believe that this excursion helped shape our views on what it means to be a Jew, especially in a country that has not always been the Jews’ friend. Discovery was also special because the majority of us had never met each other, and because of our small size and big hearts, we were able to become a close knit family in just four short weeks. This trip that I shared with Discovery has been my best trip yet. I also think that there is something really special about immersing myself in the Holy Land with members of the tribe. Although we all came from different facets of Jewish-American life, we all share an ancestral, rare common bond. I have learned so much from this trip and I plan on continuing it through new travel and studies. After this trip, I feel confident in knowing why Israel is such an important place, both as a person and as a Jew. Experiencing Israel firsthand and immersing myself in such a tolerant culture was incredible. I feel closer to the Jewish people and my ancestors. The trip is over, but I feel that my journey into the realm of Judaism has just begun. I look forward to learning more about my culture and my people, wherever I go. I hope that as I age more of my questions will be answered, and I hope to ask many many more. Before I leave, I want to thank Hadassah for making this trip possible. Without this wonderful organization, I wouldn’t have grown as a person. I am that much better because of this generous award and time.
Toda Raba! Toda Raba! Toda Raba!