“Anyone can travel. That in itself does not make anyone a traveler.”
It is with this sentiment that the Shorashim/JNF division of Taglit-Birthright Israel flew out of Newark in the late afternoon of January 17th. Our group consists of forty Americans between the ages of 22 and 26, most of whom have finished college and have taken time off from their jobs to embark on “the best ten days of [your] life.” Hailing from every corner of the continental United States, we were met at Ben Gurion Airport after a ten-hour flight by seven Israelis who are, with humor and heart, inculcating us on all aspects of Israeli culture. These aspects are as diverse as the normalcy of armed guards (our group has one, Dima, who wears his rifle as casually as a backpack), attitudes towards Kashrut among “secular” Jews, and “Jerusalem traffic.”
The first day had the potential to be a trying experience. Many of us had been traveling for well over ten hours simply taking flights to New Jersey, and adding to our exhaustion was the weather. Years of praying for Israel to have a successful rainy season apparently culminated in torrential downpours - not what first-time visitors to the Middle East would ever expect. Nonetheless, there is a feeling of bonhomie which is absolutely remarkable; the Americans, in abandoning their comfort zones, have been absorbed into an entirely new one. The concepts of having a birthright in Israel and of having come home have set the foundations for what will truly be a most superlative ten days.