Two area students reflect on Birthright Israel

by | Jun 27, 2014 | Other News

Memories for a lifetime
by Sam Sacks, Virginia Tech, class of 2014

It is incredible what one can experience during 10 days in Israel. Earlier this year, thanks to Birthright and Hillel at Virginia Tech, we were given the opportunity to witness the Land of Israel. Of course, we remember all the fun times (swimming in the Dead Sea, riding camels in the desert, shopping in the markets), but we also remember the moments that left a deeper impact. During our visit to the Golan Heights we heard gunshots ring out from Syria. We also paid our respects at Yad Vashem and Mt. Herzl. But most importantly, we spent five of our days in Israel with IDF soldiers.

Despite the fact that we spent less than a week together, we created profound relationships highlighted by the similarities and differences we discovered in one another. Growing up we learned about Israel, but nothing compares to witnessing the land and sharing life-changing moments with fellow Jews. They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas; we can now say, “What happens in Israel lasts a lifetime.”

A sense of home
by Katie Weintraub, George Mason University, class of 2014

As I stepped outside Ben Gurion airport, I was taken aback, not by the fiery Israeli sun, but by the warmth of the welcome of our new Israeli friends. As we journeyed up through the Golan Heights, down to the Dead Sea, and everywhere in between, I was equally moved by a truly unique experience. At home I am part of a religious minority; I grew up as the only Jewish kid in the same neighborhood as Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network. Being in Israel was an exciting new experience, where being Jewish is more than your religion— it’s the culture, the people and most importantly, being Jewish means belonging to this colossal family.

While I attended Hebrew school and had my Bat Mitzvah at Ohelf Sholom Temple in Norfolk, making the journey to Israel was my way to reconnect with my Jewish roots and see this holy land I had only heard about. It’s one thing to read or watch documentaries about Israel, but to actually have that tangible experience was something I craved. That first Shabbat in Tiberias, viewing the Israeli-Syrian border from the Golan Heights, visiting the Israeli Defense Forces base, walking through Yad Vashem and the National Cemetery, and kicking back with our group on the beaches in Tel Aviv—those experiences made Israel tangible, and more than the geo-politically conflicted land often misrepresented and plagued by over-generalization in the media.

Trekking around Israel what I found even more remarkable than the generosity of the Israelis we encountered, was how quickly a group of about 40 relative strangers became a tight-knit family. In addition to the experience of Birthright molding our group of Americans and Israelis into a family, we all seemed to find a sense of home in the Jewish homeland.

As we all make efforts to stay in touch, plans to return to Israel, as well as make plans to host our Israel friends after they finish their service in the army, it is clear that the warmth we experienced throughout our journey left us with bigger hearts and a deep connection with the nation and people of Israel.