Ever since I went to Israel through Birthright (A free 10 day trip for Jewish individuals), I always dreamt of going back.
I started to reach out to individuals and organizations to go back but I kept chickening out. Since being out of college since 2016, I have been dealing with overwhelming health issues that have taken a toll on my life. After much thinking and planning, while getting my health under control, I found a Jewish organization called Akiva. I was skeptical at first as I thought it wouldn't be the best trip for me, but I wanted to take a leap of faith and trust my gut, and I am glad I did.
I thought Akiva was just going to be a "Whatever" trip, meaning nothing special; I'll just get a break from home and my stressful life. I couldn't believe how wrong I was; it was much more.
From the minute I saw my group at the airport there was something different about everyone. Everyone was truly special in their own way, communicating like we already knew one another since childhood, and just super polite and friendly. We all came from so many different areas like Canada, New York, California, Florida, Tennessee, Las Vegas, even people meeting us in Israel who were from Israel: the list was endless.
Being a person with a physical disability, I didn't think I would even be allowed on the trip. Although I am in remission and can do a lot of things, I do have my limits and was worried I would not be accommodated. The group trip organizer Mendy was more than accommodating and everyone on the trip was extremely willing to help me when needed. From staying behind with me when I walked a bit slow, to carrying my backpack, pulling my suitcase, to even showing me how to pee in the forest (Thanks Leah).
Right on the airplane after speaking to a few girls in the group (Sam, Laura, Belena, Sara) and talking to but scaring a few guys with my overwhelming personality (David A., Jordan, Sven), I immediately made a family that I was unaware of. I even got to sit near the rabbi, and although he told me I scared him, he said I was special. He is Rabbi K and he is awesome.
We lived in the Old City for the majority of our trip and it was beautiful but more to say interesting. Besides the homeless man harassing our building and the floor that turned my feet yellow, it was a beautiful place to stay in. I dormed with girls that I did not know would instantly become my close friends and who I would vibe with. They let me wake them up in the morning shouting "Wakey wakey eggs and bakey" and also let me play the flute just to be annoying. It was fun and I am lucky they did not end up killing me.
I celebrated Shabbos with my amazing group in Tzfat and that was the best part. I met people from another group (Scott and Ashira) and got to walk around exploring. The hotel was fantastic and the food was yummy! I also got to propose to my "future husband" Elias (inside joke) but I was rejected.
We did much hiking, volunteering, but the majority of the trip involved classes which were super long but very interesting. I know learning sometimes can be boring but these classes were life changing. They really opened your eyes to think about things that matter and that can help make you happy by seeking what is important in your life. I learned how to be comfortable in my own skin while learning that forgiveness is a way to move forward in life.
There is so much about the trip that this article won't be able to cover. Besides the fantastic hummus and fun trips, the one thing I will take with me forever are the memories that I made with my Akiva family. Everyone, and I mean everyone, truly made a difference in my life. A few nights before departure when we were singing and dancing on our last night of Shabbos, I started crying. I will be honest and say that I have suffered from multiple mental health issues along with my physical disability, with one of them being severe depression. When I realized that I would be leaving people that I became so close with just in 2 weeks that had truly made a difference in my life, I started crying and everyone huddled around me to comfort me.
I felt this sadness but also this feeling of thankfulness, joy, and appreciation in my heart, because not only did I meet and get to know an extraordinary group of people, but I finally felt joy and peace that I haven't felt in a long time. This trip stood out to me because I met people who knew me for less than a month and accepted me for who I was and have given me so much joy in my life than anything else I had experienced. I realized that because of these people, I have the ability to be loved by others and to love myself just the way I am.
At departure on the final day, I had to come to terms that I will not be seeing my new family every day anymore and that I must go back to reality. I truly did not think people would keep in touch, as people have busy lives. I was wrong again.
I've had phone calls, chat messaging, and have met up with many individuals from the group who still hold a place in my heart, and I cannot wait for the reunion in October.
In a nutshell, I want to Thank Rabbi K, Mendy, Sam, Sara, Jackie, Elias, Sven, Leah, Laura, Ava, David A, Daniel G, Yitzi, Jane, Yana, Hadassah, Michelle, Josh, Tessa, Jordan, Alex, Yardena, Belena, Maddy, Emily, Tzipora, Ben, Eli, Alyssa, Mark, Yitzi K, Annie, Thea, Jess, Michael, Daniel O, Nechama, Doctor G, Jeremy, Aviem, and anyone else who I missed which I apologize for in advance because my brain is tired (haha) for making this a trip I needed and a trip of a life time I will truly never forget.
I hope we keep in touch as we do, and we stay an Akiva family forever.