By: Samantha Burnstein
I signed up for birthright expecting to see and tour the country of Israel. Little did I know, I would end my trip to Israel with a family, new experiences, connection to my Jewish Identity, and an appreciation for the land of Israel… Arriving to JFK Airport at 8am on May 6, 2018, I was very intimidated. I was the only person on my birthright trip who went by themselves, not knowing anyone. After checking in and going through security, a girl named Cailyn came up to me. We bonded over our love for crocs and hummus. (By the end of the trip we were best friends). This is when I realized that this trip would not be so bad after all. Taking my firsts steps into the holy land were magical and something I will never forget, I felt like I was at home. After completing more Icebreakers and meeting more people, I felt more comfortable. It was truly amazing how Jewish people from all over the United States came together as one to form a community.
Our first few days in Tiberius were amazing. We went to Caesarea, touring the large Roman city. We went on breathtaking hikes, took a jeep tour, and ate plenty of falafel and Humus. Additionally, while in Tiberius, our Israeli soldiers joined us. Little did we know that these soldiers were very similar to us. They were all very curious if college life was just like the movies. It was amazing to see the love that they had for their country. The Israeli’s truly completed our trip and left a bond that will never be broken. After Tiberius, we traveled to Jerusalem. Walking around the old city, pushing my way through crowded markets, and visiting the Western Wall, my love for Israel grew immensely.
Golden Boy became Mayanot 127’s favorite song and we chanted bo-bo-bo-boker tov every morning. We visited Yad Vashem, which really hit home because both of my grandparents survived the Holocaust and I was able to find information about them and their family at the memorial. Additionally, we walked around Mount Herzl, the sight of the national cemetery. Before leaving Jerusalem, it was time to say goodbye to our Israeli soldiers. This was truly a sad day as we all became so close and it was hard to part ways.
Tel Aviv was the next city that we visited. It was surrounded by beautiful beaches and tall buildings. In Tel Aviv we learned about all the start-up companies, hence why Israel is called “the start-up nation”. Laying out at the beach left everyone sun-burnt and hungry. After the beach we went to the Carmel Market and ate shakshuka, one of my favorite Israeli foods. Tel Aviv night life was a blast, as going out at night brought the group even closer together (The Israeli soldiers on our trip even came to Tel Aviv to go out with us because they missed us so much).
Our next destination included traveling to the desert, where we stayed in the Bedouin Tents. This was truly an experience, as we were not expecting to tent in the middle of a dessert. Looking up at the stars was breath taking and playing games around the campfire made for a memorable night. We had Hanukkah Harry, in which everyone presented each other with gift worth 5 shekels, that was bought at the market. The next day (the last day), we woke up bright and early to ride camels, hike up Masada, and float in the dead sea. The day was jam packed, but went by fast. The last night was spent at a Kibbutz. We all hung out all night and talked about the amazing things that we had experienced while in Israel.
The next morning, we left the Kibbutz at 6 am in order to make our early flight back to the states. To our surprise, once arriving to the airport, the Israeli soldiers surprised us again to all say goodbye. We said goodbye to our bus driver Ovnir, who had a great business selling water bottles for 5 shekels. We said goodbye to our amazing medic and soldier Noam (who stayed and protected us the whole trip). Additionally, we said our goodbyes to Meir, our tour guide. Leaving the land of Israel was one of the hardest things ever. I don’t think I will be able to eat anymore falafel and humus for a while. I learned so much about the history and current issues.
Additionally, I learned so much about myself and the friends that I had made on this trip of a lifetime. I will never forget the amazing experiences I have had, immersing myself into Israeli culture. I am so happy that I chose to go on birthright by myself, because my Israel experience would be completely different otherwise. I want to thank everyone who made this trip possible, including Rabi Shmuel, our student leader Jordan, Noam our Medic, all the Israeli’s who joined us: Noam, Ben, Assaf, Eli, Maya, Ofir, and Eden, and the 37 other participants on Mayanot 127. It’s not a goodbye, it’s just a see ya later.
– Samantha Burnstein