Finding history and home in Israel
By Julie Hirshan | firstname.lastname@example.org
PHOTO CREDIT: Julie Hirshan went to Israel to explore her Jewish heritage. “We learned about life in Israel during World War II by visiting a concentration camp, the Holocaust museum and cemetery. I learned a lot about myself while I was there, and took away the knowledge that I am welcome back anytime.”
As I prepared to travel to Israel this summer, I had no idea what to expect.
I did my research and found out the basic information about the country. It’s the size of the state of New Jersey. It borders Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.
While the country is primarily Jewish, it is also considered the holy land for the Christian and Muslim religions. The diverse landscape offers deserts, mountains, farmland, cities and rural communities. None of these facts prepared me for what I was about to experience.
I was with a group of 30 young Jewish people from all around the country.
Some were still in college, like I am, and wanted to spend time with their Jewish peers. Some were already well established in the work force, and wanted to take a guided tour of the country. Some were making a transition in their lives, and were using the trip as a way of exploring their identities.
As we all met each other at Newark Airport in New Jersey, we were all looking forward to an action-packed, fun-filled, 10-day journey.
Landing in Tel Aviv, I was shocked to find a city like any Western city, with all the technology and conveniences that we have here.
As we continued to travel the country, we took in lessons in history, religion, art, tolerance and culture. The first activities were tours of art museums, theatres and historical sites. We spent an afternoon volunteering at an institute for underprivileged children.
One day we went spelunking through the caves of an archaeological dig site, and helped uncover remnants of ancient civilizations.
We traveled to the Roman port of Caesarea. We were invited to an artists’ commune, and we learned about the Kabballah through art. A memorable experience was a rafting trip down the Jordan River.
I became a Bat Mitzvah in Tiberias, at a ceremony overlooking the Sea of Gallilee.
We hiked up Mount Masada, then back down again to float in the Dead Sea. We drove out to the desert to go on a sunset camel ride and sleep under the stars. We learned about life in Israel during World War II by visiting a concentration camp, the Holocaust museum and cemetery. We ended in Jerusalem with a visit to the Western Wall.
And while all these experiences were incredible, what touched me the most were the people.
One of the important aspects of the program is for young Americans to get a chance to interact with young Israelis. All the people in our group were either finishing school or had recently graduated.
The eight Israelis that we met in our age group were serving their time in the Israel Defense Forces.
In Israel, it’s mandatory for all young people, both male and female, to participate in military service when they turn 18. There are religious exceptions, but it is an accepted part of their culture. It’s a completely different perspective.
While we were all preparing for our careers, or already in them, these young adults weren’t even sure what they wanted to study yet. After their service is over, many of them take some time to travel before settling back into life as a student or in the work force.
It was so interesting to hear them talk about how proud they were to be serving their country. It was inspiring. I hope to travel back some day.
I learned a lot about myself while I was there, and took away the knowledge that I am welcome back any time. I only hope that maybe I can give something back to the country that has shown me so much.