So I’m back. But not really. My body is here in LA, but my mind and heart are still in Israel.
This trip was fantastic. I laughed for 10 days straight. I made new friendships and strengthened old ones. I got to show people places and things that I love deeply, and watch as they fell in love as well. I shared stories and lessons and hopes and dreams with a group of people who I now consider to be family. But best of all, for the fourth time this year, I’ve been a part of something that I consider to be absolutely life-changing.
Birthright works. It changes people. I see it in their eyes, their smiles, the way they suddenly begin to move and talk and act. Simply put, they fall in love -- with each other, with the country, with the people. Birthright makes them want to be connected, to be involved, to be a part of the community. It makes them want to be Jews.
Without fail, there’s always a day that hits home for them. Usually, it’s the day we visit Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum, and Har Herzl, Israel’s military cemetery. It’s a long, emotional day, that usually ends with most people in tears. It warms my heart to see them comfort each other -- people who just a few days before were truly strangers, now hugging and embracing each other like family. And inevitably, at the end of the day, as we’re heading back to the bus, or maybe regrouping in the lobby of the hotel, or even later that night in a serious discussion, I hear it. And it never fails to bring me to tears.
“I need to marry a Jew.”
“I have to raise my children Jewish.”
“I want to be a better Jew.”
At that moment, I know I have done my job. That the sweat and hard work and long days and thorough exhaustion have been for something. Because if the work I do can make another person want to be a better Jew -- or a Jew at all! -- then I know it has all been worth it.
And as for me?
Israel changes me. I act differently there. I AM different there. I speak Hebrew to strangers. I’m not afraid to ask questions or hear the answers. I jump into waterfalls and climb up mountains. My head feels clearer, my body feels lighter. When I look up above me, I feel like I can touch the sky.
This is the first time in months that I don’t have another trip planned back, and when I think about that, I can barely breathe. Israel is so much a part of me now that I cannot fathom going weeks, months, years without without going back. I NEED to return. I need to be there, I need to see my friends, I need to feel Israel all around me.
How do you go about your life when you’ve left a part of you on the other side of the world?