10 Days Later - David Hackel, Bronfman Center Student
Reluctantly, I filed an application for Birthright through NYU’s Bronfman Center. My peers suggested I go; it was a life changing experience, they asserted. My siblings reiterated those sentiments. I was hesitant because I was certain it would not—it could not—live up to my expectations. How could a mere ten day trip, with a collection of complete strangers nonetheless, alter my outlook on life? How could it change my Jewish identity? Perhaps the trip would force me to ponder my connection with Judaism, but would it really do much else?
10 days later…
I am humbled and proud—honored—to have been lucky enough to take part in the wonderful journey called Birthright. During a ten day span in late May, I formed genuine relationships with hopeful lifelong friends; I underwent spiritual epiphany; I studied the history of the state of Israel as well as its contemporary political and social developments…and the list, if I were to catalog each event, would fill pages. But let me just say this: Subsequent to the trip, I feel closer to Judaism. I don’t feel closer because of force fed propaganda. Or because “I have to.” Through traversing the ancient lands, meandering narrow alleyways and the city streets, and analyzing my personal religious views—I conclude autonomously a desire and urgency to fight for the Jewish cause.
Prior to Birthright, Israel was much more of an unrealized hope that I had learned about only through texts. But the trip reaffirmed, in a very concrete way, my love for Judaism and for the Jewish people.
There are several moments of the trip worth highlighting here, in order to demonstrate how expansive the experience was.
The first is a testament to the beautiful friendships formed. On day two, while still recovering from an insufficient seven hours of sleep throughout the past two days, a group of five of us was sent adrift in a raft down the Jordan River. We were given two long wooden paddles, informed the current would take us to the destination point in about an hour and a half, and wished a parting “good luck.” Roughly five seconds into our adventure, we had lost one of our two paddles; three seconds later, while still trying to recover the lost oar, one member of the group lost her hat. After fifteen or so minutes attempting to reclaim the paddle and the hat, we finally did it…only ten feet downriver and already fifteen minutes behind schedule! There were no other members of our group in sight. We laughed off our struggles—and continued, in isolation, down the remainder of the river path. Following a minute or so of awkward silence waiting for one person to break the ice—we burst into conversation, laughter, and joy. From then onward, there was not one dull moment. I had not had a personal conversation with three of the five individuals in the raft prior to commencement down the river, yet forty-five minutes into the trip, I could consider them all close acquaintances as each of us professed personal secrets and our life stories. And by the end of the rafting journey, I considered each of them a dear friend. Although the rafting adventure occurred with only five of us, similar bonding experiences occurred between myself and every member of the group at some point during Birthright. Until this instance, I had never made such close friendships over an obscenely a short period. However, I can assert with certainty that these friendships will last throughout the years. I am excited to watch these relationships blossom, just as the state of Israel has blossomed throughout the past half-century.
A second moment worth emphasizing was the group’s tour of Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Shoah Memorial. We studied the historical reasons for the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries—and, in particular, how the Holocaust was a trigger for Israel’s founding. As a group, we listened to and observed each member’s association with the Holocaust—ultimately realizing that we, the Jewish people, have a largely common history and ancestry.
Overall, there were myriad notable events during the trip. The hour long, hectic, bus rides—music blasting, speakers vibrating—and all participants singing along. Rising at 4:30 AM to climb Masada for perhaps the most beautiful sunrise I have yet to witness. Bargaining with local vendors in the Tel Aviv markets, floating in the salt-infused Dead Sea…the list is ceaseless.
It was a beautiful trip. Israel is a wondrous place—rich in history, culture, and lovely people. I am thoroughly grateful to have experienced it through the Birthright program; and through NYU’s Bronfman Center in particular. I will certainly cherish the friends I made for life.
One Israeli man approached our group on the beach in Tel Aviv, asked us simple, introductory questions, and informed us of his time living in America. Towards the end of our conversation he made one profound statement that has affected me immensely.
He said, “You live in America, but Israel is your home.”
I am still pondering and constantly questioning my Jewish identity—so I do not accept his contention as a given—but, it has a ring of truth…to me, at least.