Ah, this wintery time of year. Full of warmth away from the cold, lots of delicious sweet foods, sweaters and more. But mostly, being home for the holidays is the big idea here, to spend time with the ones you may love most...right? Well, yes, in part the holidays should be about family. But when you have an opportunity to try something different (like me) during this time of year, don’t automatically put it to the side.
This winter break I took the amazing privilege to go on my Taglit Birthright Trip. Birthright is basically the 10-day Israel experience trip that all eligible Jews can go on from ages 18-26 for free. Most people decide to go in the summertime, where you can do a lot of activities in the fun of the Middle Eastern sun. But since I always had work and school during the summertime, I decided to take the bull by the horns and sign up for the winter schedule.
Of course at first I was sad that I would be home away for Hannukah, Christmas, and New Years (shoutout to my fellow interfaith families), as were my parents. But my parents were so excited that I would be able to travel without putting a dent into my or their savings and still stay on track academically. So, after a long and arduous process, I packed my bags and went off with 52 strangers to the Holy Homeland.
And I loved every single second of it.
I chose a trip with the agency Shorashim, with their National “Israel with Israelis” program. What this translates to is: I flew on a plane with 40 Americans plus our two native counselors to Israel, where we would meet up with 7 Israeli soldiers and our guide. We would travel all over the small country together for 10 days, from Jerusalem to the Golan, Tel Aviv to Sderot, on a large bus driven by our enigmatic driver Ronen.
And I had the time of my life. Every single person on that trip was amazingly kind and open to new ideas and perspectives. The Israelis that were with us were, to say the least fantastic, kind, intelligent, welcoming, and energetic. Our leaders were able to complete everything on the itinerary and make the experience so exceptional to all of us. The food was mouth-wateringly delicious, the art was stunning, the historical monuments soul-touching, and the people family.
On all eight days of Hanukkah, we lit the Menorah together and ate sufganiyot (amazing jelly doughnuts). For the first time in my life, I saw my culture's holiday a bigger deal in the public sphere than Christmas. Especially the part where there were no Christmas carols. It was truly heartwarming to see the very sparse Christmas lights and the supporting Chanukiahs next to them.
On Christmas day, I was blessed enough to spend it in Jerusalem. Even though I am not even close to calling myself anything but Jewish, my family celebrates the present-giving and joy expressed on Christmas Day. To see so many Jews sharing that joy, but still celebrating the fifth Chanukah themselves, was eye-opening and wonderful.
To say the least, I truly reveled in my time away from home during the holiday season. If I had not gone and taken this opportunity, I would not have met 52 amazingly colorful people, spent time in my home away from home, or had such a life-changing experience. To you, readers, I say that you should not limit yourself to the societal norms. If a door opens for you, try and take it.
Happy new year y’all, and shout out to Bus #25!