I was off the walls, shrieking with excitement. A smile from ear to ear. I was going out of the country for the first time! I would get to see my aunts, uncles, and cousins! I would get to travel around and practice the couple of Hebrew phrases I knew! I was jumping for joy throughout the entire 2-week journey.
My parents, sister, and I walked off the plane and almost immediately started the vacation upon stepping onto Israeli soil. We got to see all the common tourist sites, and went to my cousin’s wedding. We had such a great time, but as soon as all the fun started, it was already time to leave. So sadly, we packed up and flew home. But then we went again for my bar mitzvah. Then again for another cousin’s wedding.
Several years went by. I got busy with high school, overnight camp, youth group, etc. I put Israel on the back-burner. But as those other pieces of my life faded away, I felt a need to see again why I loved Israel so much in my childhood. And this trip would have a higher purpose than just sightseeing and family visits (as much as I appreciate those things).
So I came alone, on my own initiative.
No programs to guide my way along a professionally prepared itinerary, to learn history or take pictures at touristy spots (although this is all important too). No, this time, I got to know the people. I spoke with 18 and 19 year olds who chose to drop their lives in their home countries to return to the homeland, to serve alongside native 18 and 19 year olds. I spoke to Jews, Muslims, Christians, humans about their lives, of the joys and complications that they experience. I sat on the beach and soaked up the sun—but not too much, I’m a gingy as they say. I hiked the rocky terrain of the green mountains and tan deserts. I tasted every crumb of food within my reach. I spoke in the language that my ancestors have spoken in for thousands of years. I listened to the music and joined in song. Then and there, I was home.
I had come into Israel looking for a good time. Good people. Good food. Good weather. Good pictures. Good memories. But I got more than I bargained for. I found home. And my story continues…