Jeff Hersch recently participated in a Birthright Israel trip with Israel Outdoors. Upon his return, he shared the following reflection with the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey. Welcome back Jeff!
I arrived in Tel Aviv after nearly a full day of traveling. The idea of Birthright was always in the back of my mind and I was proud of myself for actually committing to the trip. Not only was it my first time to Israel, but my first time out of the country. Between multiple fights, several time zones, and a 3 hour bus ride to Golan, it was not an easy task keeping my eyes open for very long. I fought delirium and caught a second (or third or fourth) wind. Upon leaving the airport, I first noticed the temperature. I expected it to be warm, but not this warm. Even the Israelis said it was much warmer than average for this time of year. The first two days we stayed at a Kibbutz in the Golan Heights, which used to be Syria prior to the 1967 war. An active minefield from those days bordered the Kibbutz, but even the wandering dogs were smart enough to not approach the area.
Everyone I had spoken to about Israel claimed to have felt an overwhelming feeling of acceptance and belonging after stepping foot in the country. That feeling came to me and some peers on day three, as we freely explored Tzfat, the city of Kabballah and Jewish mysticism. Located 4,000 feet above sea level, this ancient city immediately fulfilled my predetermined notions of Israel’s more “definitive” architecture and landscape. As we sat on a narrow staircase eating falafel overlooking mountains and discussing our lives, we realized a feeling none of us had ever quite experienced before. It was a strong sense of safety and serenity, luck and pride. None of us were very religious at all, but physically being in Israel connected us to our ancestors and history, struggles of the past and present. The idea of being completely surrounded by Jews put all preconceived fears at ease, and we felt free to roam around and speak freely to anyone and everyone. And we did. Such feelings lingered throughout Jerusalem and only grew stronger throughout the trip. Read More