Any time I get to cover an event related to Birthright Israel, I’m overjoyed. My experience in Israel was like none other in my life, so I jump at any opportunity that I know will bring me back to that trip.
This was the latest of that type, a fundraising event at the Newseum in Washington, DC. (The Newseum, home to an exhibit full of Pulitzer Prize winning photographs, is of course, my favorite museum out there).
This was a wonderful event, and, as a Birthright alum who had an incredible ten days in Israel at zero cost, it was interesting to witness what actually goes into making that gift possible for myself and thousands of others around the world.
I was in great company, as well. Here’s a photo of the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson, who have donated over $100 million to Birthright Israel since 2007, posing with Michael Oren, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States.
It will certainly be a nice addition to the Philanthropy and Foreign Policy portfolios.
Some of the best experiences Goucher College made possible for me were ones that happened thousands of miles away. Given Goucher’s international sensibility and study abroad requirement, I had many opportunities for travel, both nationally and internationally.
To fulfill my requirement, I studied in Buenos Aires, Argentina in January 2010 for a four-week intensive Spanish language program. What a trip. Living with a wonderful host family during my stay there, I was immersed in Argentine culture and learned the value of living without some of the luxuries that are easy to take for granted back home. I also left with a group of close friends from around the United States.
In retrospect, I wish I had been able to go abroad for an entire semester. It would have been impossible to do without missing a tennis season, but had I stayed there for three or four months, I’m confident that I would have achieved fluency in Spanish. That still remains a goal of mine.
I also visited a good friend of mine in Germany, traveled to Poland and the Czech Republic, and participated in a Taglit-Birthright trip to Israel this past January.
Finally, tennis team Spring break training trips took me to Virginia, North Carolina, and California, and I had many shorter visits to other parts of the country throughout the past four years.
There’s always lots of discussion about Goucher’s abroad requirements. There are certainly challenges to working around 1,400 plus students’ travel plans. In my view, though, this is one of the best things Goucher has going for it.
We visited the Kotel in Jerusalem two times in one day, once for a tour and some moments of reflection and again for Shabbat later that evening.
It really is one of the most special places on Earth. When we arrived for Shabbat, it was raining, so over one hundred of us huddled under a bridge and held a Kabbalat Shabbat service. As soon as we finished, the rain cleared and we all took to the Kotel. For obvious reasons, I don’t have photographs of the atmosphere during Shabbat itself, so I posted these from earlier in the day.
I mentioned in an earlier post how being Jewish felt right in Israel. This was where I felt it the most.
Originally, I applied for the Birthright trip associated with Goucher Hillel, but was ultimately placed on the Greater Baltimore trip with students and young professionals from around the Baltimore area.
I’ve made it pretty clear over the past several years that there’s no bigger proponent of Goucher College than myself. I love everything about the institution, and in all honesty, I was a bit disappointed to originally learn that I wouldn’t be going with my school. But I consider it a blessing that I was placed on Bus 84, the group I was with.
There’s no way the trip would have been so special if it weren’t for the leadership we had. Our tour guide and educator, Elad, was masterful in his thoroughness, humor, transitions from stop to stop, and interactive style.
We couldn’t have asked for better group leaders than Renée Goldfarb and Sarah Langert. Looking after 52 people is a huge responsibility, and the way they handled us crazy people was admirable. I’m also grateful that they always designated time for us to sit and reflect on all that we had done.
Even our bus driver, Adel, greeted us every morning with a smile and air conditioning at our request.
I like to think that this photograph represents all their hard work.
For me, people make Israel such a special place, not the land. That’s saying something about the people, because the landscapes throughout the country are epic and inspiring.
The country is the size of New Jersey, yet one can travel from sea to desert to mountains in hours.
The two hour drive to this Bedouin tent had infinite opportunities for photographs, yet I didn’t take a single one. I just wanted to take it all in, and it remains a bus ride I’ll never forget.
Thanks to my new friend Matt for scouting the location for the night shot. The late night and early morning light in the middle of the desert was perfect, so I had to document it. In between these two moments was a night of singing, laughing, and lots of food.
*The Associated Blog cited this post and linked to my blog on January 18, 2011. Click here to see that blog post!*
I went to Israel for twelve days as part of the Taglit-Birthright program to start off my 2011 year.
I had heard so much about the country and about this trip itself, but having never been, I didn’t know what to expect. Now I’m back, and I can honestly say that it was the most meaningful trip I’ve ever been on. I want to preface all these posts by saying that no photographs, videos, or words can begin to illustrate how incredible this experience was. It’s something that one can only understand by doing them self.
There are three main things I’ll take from this trip.
The first is more pride in being Jewish. I was always one of the very few Jews growing up in school. There was never a time I didn’t feel normal, and I never had any shame in telling people I was Jewish, but at times it was hard to relate to people in that regard. Seeing a society where Judaism is the norm was truly inspiring. It felt like home.
Secondly, I realized just how easy my life is. In Israel, everyone must serve in the army. We were blessed to have eight Israeli soldiers with us. They’re all performing the ultimate service to their country with no complaints, yet they’re still kids who laugh, think, cry, love, and party just like us. I visited a school on the border of the Gaza Strip that regularly gets hit by incoming rocket propelled missiles. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to focus in an environment like that, yet the students I met there are some of the happiest, brightest people I’ve ever met. What do I have to be unhappy about? Being too busy? Having too much schoolwork? Losing a tennis match?
Finally, I’ve gained 52 new friends, both American and Israeli. It was unbelievable to see how quickly we all became so close to each other. It brought me to tears when it was time to say goodbye.
This was my favorite photograph from the trip. The upcoming posts will be highlighting some scattered but memorable moments from my time in Israel.
Here’s a slideshow of my photographs from Israel! I got this up quickly but check back for lots more to come!