It hadn’t hit me that I had landed in Israel. In fact, I was already jetlagged. The 36 hours in airports and on planes may have had something to do with it.
After waiting in line with 39 other UM students – who, unbeknownst to me at the time, would soon transform from strangers to friends – I walked groggily up to the customs desk. The man sitting behind it, peering through the bulletproof glass between us, began to bark routine questions at me: “Is this your first time in Israel?” “You’re here on Birthright?” “Who was your third grade Hebrew school teacher?”
Seemingly having proved that I matched my passport, he smiled. Laugh lines dampened his temples, betraying experience beyond his routine airport job. I’ll never forget what happened next. He paused and said, “Welcome home.”
Here are 10 reasons why you should listen to your aunt Deborah and jump on the Birthright bandwagon – ahem, camel.
1. It’s free. All subtleties aside, I’m sure you understand the association between Judaism and cheapness better than anyone. But really, it’s free. You, by absolutely no effort on your part, happened to have been born into a historically oppressed group, which managed to carve out a piece of the Middle East some 64 years ago. Congratulations, this opportunity landed unceremoniously in your modestly dressed lap.
2. You’re curious about what a minefield looks like.
3. You will get advice about life and Jewish mysticism from the bearded and tallith-ed man making you lachach at a stand tucked away on a side street of Tzfat. Note: I still don’t know what lachach is. But you want a bite of it, I promise.
4. Religious or not, you should experience Shabbat at the Western Wall. The sex segregation may offend your feminist and politically correct sensibilities, but, at the end of the day, the folks clad in unfamiliar floor-length attire are your people. These strangers – dancing circles around you and belting out Hebrew songs, which jog memories of Adam Leibowitz from Sunday school and the smell of schnitzel – are your people.
5. After waking up at 4 a.m. to beat the sun, the sunrise from the top of Masada is poetic.
6. You have difficulty connecting with the Israel in the news. This Israel is both the motherland and the site of daily missile attacks. Zionist? Secular? Doesn’t matter. Go, see the country. Talk to soldiers. Sleep with soldiers. Argue with soldiers. Form your opinions on Israeli dirt – which, by the way, produces delicious pomegranates.
7. Throughout your life, the innumerable Holocaust museums, whirr of statistics and jumble of stories have become a monotonous drone. Be prepared to cry at Yad Vashem, the museum where the numbers are personified.
8. You always longed to go to space camp. The Dead Sea also works. But be careful not to scrape against anything on your hike in the contested Golan Heights territory that morning. It will sting when you rub the dense mud all over your body.
9. Tel Aviv is basically the snazziest city in the world. This is the place where fashion meets queerness. In the middle of the desert. Walking down the street at any given moment, you will pass your run-of-the-mill Orthodox Jew, an Arab man dressed in a thawb and a lesbian that looks like Justin Bieber.
10. It’s all sababa. Don’t know what that means? Oh, you will.
Registration for summer trips with Hibba Israel InTouch, the official Taglit-Birthright Israel provider of the University of Miami Hillel, begins at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
Call 305-450-0097 or visit israelintouch.com.