Birthright was a whirlwind. A blur. An amazing guide led 40 teens to all of the most important sites of Israel. It was nearly impossible to blog during the trip because our days began at 7 a.m. and we did not always have internet connection at the hostels and hotels where we stayed. During the days we rode camels, climbed Mount Masada, hiked, soaked in the Dead Sea, shopped at markets and shuks, drank endless amounts of iced coffee, and slept on every bus ride from one site to another. Most importantly, we learned about the real ins of Israeli life through the eight Israeli soldiers that joined us on the trip.
The soldiers are our age (18-21), and boys are required to serve in the Israeli army for three years and girls for two. They are stationed throughout the country, and some serve in intelligence units, while others serve in the navy, combat, or patrol. Some soldiers will serve extra time in the army to become officers upon initial completion, and other soldier plan to travel the world and eventually enroll in a university. The first day we met the soldiers, they seemed really intimidating and mature with their army uniforms on, but once they changed into street clothes, they became normal young adults like us. They shared their experiences from their specific field in the army, and I found it extremely humbling to hear their jobs like patrolling the Gaza strip or the Iron Dome.
In one discussion with a soldier, he asked about the press we hear in the United States and told us that they only want to live peaceful and normal lives. The soldiers want to enjoy life the same way that American do. Although their day job is to defend and protect the state of Israel, they enjoy relaxing and listening to similar music that we do. The Israelis integrated beautifully into our group, and their knowledge, insight, and varying opinions about the Israeli state broadened my mindset for how to think about events taking place in Israel.
The soldiers returned to the army at the conclusion of our birthright trip. My friend Stephanie and I are on our own in Israel until our official study abroad program begins on June 10th. Tonight we are in a hostel in the old Jewish quarter in Jerusalem. We will not be allowed to use technology after sundown tonight and we will be enjoying a Shabbat dinner with a native Jewish family, I have already leaned immense amounts in the holy land, and I’m excited for my experience tonight. Shabbat shalom!