I came to Israel on a 9 month program, not knowing what to expect. It changed me. I felt a sense of belonging, and pride to a place that matched my core values There were holidays like Yom Hazikoron, Yom Hatzmaot, Yom Ha’shoah, that made me feel like a piece of a history, a people, and a bloodline. A nation of immigrants, not even a century old, gave me the inspiration to want to be part of a bigger cause, and stay.
I’m so glad I had the chance to come back because Israel is my second home. The moment you walk off the plane you feel connected to it and every second I’m there I feel more and more connected to the land and the Jewish people. There is not a moment when I don’t think to myself how lucky I am to be there. This trip I just went on was more about Israel advocacy then site seeing, which make me more aware than ever how important it is to stand with Israel. Just going to the Kotel and seeing everyone pray and dance together is so inspiring. This time, I got a bracelet made for myself that said “My heart is in the East while I’m in the West” as a way of reminding myself each day how important Israel is to me. Now that I’m home, I’m brainstorming how I’m going to go back as soon as possible because I miss it so much already, and it hasn’t even been a week since I’ve returned home.
I woke up at 2:30AM, slipped on my sneakers, and wandered sleepily down to the bus. I don’t remember much of the bus ride, just a lot of turning and swerving and the sounds of an argument between the bus driver and our madricha, Emunah. We arrived at the bottom of the mountain Sartaba on the first of the month of Sivan at about 4 in the morning and began searching for the trail marker in the dark. After about an hour it looked like we were reaching the top of the mountain. Hearing our excited muttering Emunah turned and gave us a sympathetic look, in a few minutes we saw why. We had not reached the top, we had reached the point from which the top was first visible. Here the hike became impossibly more uphill and rocky. Every ten minutes or so we would take a moment to catch our breath and gaze at the sun rising over the Jordan valley, it was as if we were hiking towards it.
A sweaty, achy, breathless hour and a half later Emunah shouted over her shoulder at us to say birchot hatorah as we hiked so we could learn mishnayot the second we got to the top. We arrived at the top about a half an hour later just as the sky erupted into pinks and yellows. As promised, we began to learn the mishnayot about the first of the month and how the mountain we had just hiked was the second (or third according to some opinions) in a chain of mountains that were illuminated by enormous bonfires to let the country know that the first of the month had arrived. We then proceeded to make a bonfire and roast marshmallows.
As we ate breakfast I thought about something Rabbi Norman Lamm had said about the first of the month. He talked about the significance of the people’s responsibility to declare the month themselves by identifying the new moon and the nature of the commandment of Rosh Chodesh. G-d told Moshe, “Hachodesh hazel lachem Rosh chodeshim,” This month for you the first of all months. G-d commanded the month for us, to be identified by us. Hence Rabbi Lamm argues, to be filled with our own creativity. As we declare each month, we are to proceed to fill its days with our hearts and minds. The combination of reliving the actions of our ancestors by hiking Sartaba on Rosh chodesh, and the fresh opportunity Rosh Chodesh implies was more breathtaking than the orange sun.