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Discovering birthright: lessons from my 10-day trip to Israel

January 25, 2013

A young Jew’s birthright trip to Israel is a special, once-in-a-lifetime experience. It really is a birthright – a return home, to where it all began, to the land of our ancestors. Because we are Jewish, we have a right, by birth, to visit Israel and discover our roots. I did that, and I developed a stronger and deeper connection to my roots, my religion, my homeland and my people that I cannot adequately explain. Along the way, I also learned lessons and had moments of clarity that I would now like to share:

Small but mighty: As a human being standing in the middle of the Negev Desert, looking at the vast array of stars and constellations, seeing everything in the horizon, breathing in nature, listening to the sounds of the world, one can feel like the smallest speck in time and space. It’s a humbling moment to stand there and listen to the “Circle of Life” being played around you and realize how true those lyrics are. However, I learned that though I am but one dot in the whole history of the world, I have the ability to do great things, and I believe I have the responsibility to lead a worthwhile life and to do things and to fully embrace what it means to be living in the 21st century.

Priorities: It’s one thing to realize, as I did in Italy, that the four most important things in my life are the people in it, doing good, appreciating the moment and really living (everything else is olive oil – bonus goodness). It’s another thing to stand in Sderot, a town one mile north of the Gaza Strip, and look at the remains of the missiles and rockets that have been fired upon the town and its people and look at the bomb shelters shaped like caterpillars on playgrounds and realize that the things I pass off as daily stresses and worries concerning school and my future and life, while all somewhat important, are not worth revolving my life around. While it is important to me to do well in school and to figure out my future, my life is still going on around me as I think about those things, and while it’s cliché to say, the present really is all we have, so it is vital to live the present. Israel is a region of the world with much conflict, but Israelis don’t spend their days worried that a violent action is going to occur on their doorstep; they spend their days fully embracing and living life. So another priority I discovered in Israel: maximize life, minimize fear.

Importance of a name: At Yad Vashem, the tour guide asked us to remember just one name by the end of our tour through the museum. He told us stories of everyday folks who were heroes of the Holocaust. He brought us to the final room of the museum, a room that houses binders filled with four million names of Jews who perished in the Holocaust – a room that also houses empty shelves reserved for the two million names still unknown. Six million is an inconceivable number. I’ve never seen six million anything. But six million, in the context of the Holocaust, was more than a number; it was people –six million names, six million stories, six million people who never had the chance to properly lead the remainder of their lives. To these people who lost everything, a name was all they had, so after leaving Yad Vashem, I vowed to remember names and faces when I meet new people and to remember names of people who impacted my life. It’s really the least I can do.

Small moments are the big moments: One of the moments most engrained in my memory from the trip is the moment we drove into a snow-covered Jerusalem. I stood from my seat on the bus and stared out the window, took pictures, listened to “Jerusalem” by Matisyahu and had the most genuine smile on my face that I have ever had. We hadn’t seen the Western Wall or the Old City or anything else in Jerusalem besides an overview yet, but that moment of driving into a city that has meant so much to this world was a moment I will never forget. It is one of my favorite moments from a jam-packed 10-day journey.

Spreading the light: At the children’s memorial in Yad Vashem, the 1.5 million children lost in the Holocaust are each represented by candles. The tour guide said that these 1.5 million children’s candles were extinguished too early, and we don’t know what we lost in these 1.5 million children who had so much potential. One of those 1.5 million children could have found the cure for cancer, and we will never have the chance to know. Because of this, he said it is important to spread our own lights and live up to our potential. We are each here for a reason and have so much opportunity to change the world, and it’s just not fair to keep all that light to ourselves.

***

This trip to Israel changed me. The people I was surrounded by for anywhere from an hour to 10 days enhanced my perspective of the world and introduced me to new ideas and ways of thinking. The change is so important to me that I feel like typing it out on this blog would diminish some of how personal and meaningful it was, so I will just say that I returned from Israel with more passion for Judaism, more passion for Israel, more passion for the people who surround me and more passion for life and meaning. It really was a trip of discovery.

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