For my winter break, I went on a Birthright trip with USC Hillel to Israel. Growing up Jewish in Arkansas, I always knew that I wanted to get closer to G-d and discover the roots of my religion in the homeland. The trip most certainly did not disappoint.
We started our trip in northern Israel for three days. While there, we went on hikes throughout the mountains, went on muddy jeep rides, visited the Syrian border, and took a tour of one of the four holy cities, Tzfat. One of the highlights of this portion of the trip was leading a pack of brave souls into the Sea of Galilee in 50 degree weather. In addition, the beginning of the trip is where I established a core group of people that I would experience this spiritual journey with.
Our next leg of the trip was a one day extravaganza of events. The night before, we stayed in a Bedouin tent in the middle of the desert (yes Israel has places with mountains and constant rain but also a dry desert). It was us, our canvas tent, and the stars. We laid on sharp, jagged rocks in the middle of the dunes, but we were happy. We talked for hours about our lives, our Judaism, and opened up to each other about things that we have never said to anyone else. The night included a lot of soul searching and life changing moments for some, and it was definitely one of the most humbling moments. The next morning we woke up and immediately grabbed our helmets to go on a camel ride through the desert. The grunt the camel made when I got on was similar to the grunt I make every Monday morning.
After our trot through the desert we returned for breakfast and headed to Masada. The true peak of the trip (literally and figuratively) was here. We were standing in the very place where King Herod resided and where an entire village of Jews sacrificed their lives so they would not be captured by the Romans. In addition, after not talking to family back home for a while, we were given letters that our parents wrote for us. There was no use for me to try to hold back tears as I read the letter. I felt myself growing as a person on this journey and knowing my parents knew that too was something very special to me at that moment.
After having that touching moment, it was time to hike 1400 feet down the edge of a cliff on steep, no railing, winding, gravel topped stairs. Even though I was winded and my legs were shaking, I felt so accomplished after looking back at what I had done and the 1400 feet that I had traversed. Instantly, after our hike down, we made our way to the dead sea. I know it does not really seem logical that you could effortlessly float in water, but it is the truth. I lathered myself in mud and laid back and floated without a care in the world. That night, we landed our bus in Tel Aviv. We stayed there for two days and were able to solo explore the city. We went to the market and walked around a neighborhood that was full of graffiti.
The next day, we left for Jerusalem. The four days following were the most amazing, holy days of my life. We went through Old Jerusalem and visited the Western Wall, walked through Yad Vashem (the Israeli Holocaust museum), and made our way up Mount Herzl (where the Israeli soldiers are buried). The entire experience of Jerusalem made me feel much closer to my religion and strengthened the roots I previously had.
Leaving Israel was the hardest thing that I had to do. My journey was coming to a close, and I was being forced to say goodbye to some of the closest friends that I had ever met. There is no doubt in my mind that I came back a changed person in multiple facets. I am already looking forward to the next time I get to travel to Israel. I have plenty more pictures and stories to share, so feel free to reach out if you have any questions or check out my Instagram!