Me and my sister falling in love with this country.
For the first time in a long time, my winter break was incredible. It wasn’t just nice or relaxing. It was truly spectacular. My sister and I went to Israel for 10 days with Hillel International’s Winter Birthright trip. Each day was an adventure… even when that included a trip to the hospital at 3 a.m. with a 104-degree fever.
Our journey began with our departure from JFK on Christmas Eve. After a relatively uneventful 12-hour flight, I stepped foot on the land that would soon claim a piece of my heart. Everything was beautiful. The airport we landed in, the palm trees outside, the weather, the people, even the sidewalk caught my eye.
The first place we ventured was the city Caesarea and the Mediterranean Sea. When we got there, I turned to another girl on our trip and said, “If Heaven is real, this is what I like to think it would be.” She replied, “Maybe this is your Heaven.” And she was right. The sea was a clearer blue than any water I’ve ever seen back in Jersey, and the sun was just on the verge of setting. Waving goodbye to my first Israeli sunset, we ventured onward to our hotel on the sea of Galilee.
During the three days we stayed in the hotel, I woke up early each morning to watch the sunrise. On Day 2, I found a glass bottle burrowed in the sand. My curiosity got the best of me. I tried to pull it from the sand to see if anything was inside, but it was futile. I continued to walk, the only one up and about. On my way back, I found the bottle and stared in awe: it was barely buried in the sand! It looked like it was waiting for me.
I eagerly emptied the sand and dirt from inside, but the bottle was empty. After a moment of disappointment, I realized maybe I was supposed to be the one to put the message in the bottle. And that’s exactly what I did on Day 3. Honestly, my message wasn’t as dramatic as I originally considered making it. I wrote about my new love for Israel from my Birthright endeavors and included my e-mail in hopes that some other curious traveler will stumble upon it.
During the next seven days, we did everything from wine-tasting to meeting artists and learning about Israeli technological innovations. During our night out in Tel Aviv, however, life took an unexpected turn and I ended up at a hospital for the very first time, suffering a high fever. I think the hospital was the only part of Israel that I didn’t find beautiful. Though I was terrified and had to call my parents back in the U.S., the friends I made in Israel were there for me every step of the way. My roommate stood up for me to make sure I got the care I needed, and our staff members were always checking up on me. After lots of sleep and plenty of medicine, I rebounded and was climbing Masada, swimming in the Dead Sea, and partying it up for New Year’s in Jerusalem.
Leaving wasn’t easy. Israel felt like a long-lost sibling; how could I even think to leave this part of me behind? Thankfully, being an active member of the Jewish community through Arcadia’s Hillel let’s me reflect on that with others who have been there as well. I plan to share my experience with Hillel and all the members who are still planning their own Birthright trips.
My outlook on Judaism has changed drastically since I entered Arcadia. I no longer see my religion as a world of limitations. I see it as an open doorway— full of possibilities.