I put off going on Birthright for years. I procrastinated while every jewish friend I had and 2 of my 3 siblings took their free trip to Israel. I stayed put, double-tapping their instagrams and telling myself that I couldn't possibly take that sort of time off of work.
And then suddenly I was turning 25, and I was getting down to the wire, and I was tired of New York, and so I applied. And then I nagged my best friend until she applied. And then we got a call on Super Bowl Sunday asking if we could leave in a week and a half. And so we found ourselves at the airport, surrounded by strangers that would soon be our friends, clinging to each other like we have for 17 years. And then we were in Israel.
I tried to take notes every day, but just as I've done with every diary I've ever owned, I wrote sporadically for a few days before abandoning it entirely. But here is an incomplete, rambling run-down of what turned out to be the best 10 days of my life anyway. This is mostly for me.
We got to the airport a full 5 hours before our flight. Allie and I stood very close together and ate the cookies we bought at Penn Station and kept in our pockets for "flight snacks." They were obviously never going to last until the actual flight. One girl bragged about how big the crowd was at her Bat Mitzvah. Another girl exuding Bushwick cool loudly talked about how she can't talk without coffee. I cowered. I had never been more overwhelmed until the next day, and then every day after that.
After an 8 hour flight and 7 hour time change, we landed and immediately started a jam-packed day. We met the president of Sachlav, our trip organization. He wanted to make sure that we understood that this free trip wasn't actually free, because nothing is free, and that we should recognize and appreciate it as the gift that it was. He also said, and I quote, "WE ARE NOT HERE TO BRAINWASH YOU." Listen, dude. I was in BBYO. I know you only brought me here to make Jewish babies. I'm no fool. I'll give you the 3 Jewish babies the Torah requires, but give me a minute! I just got here! We also saw the ancient greek/jewish city of Caesarea, and it was beautiful.
According to my notes, the bus was blaring P!NK and I ate my first of 10 shawarma wraps. I don't remember the P!NK part but I am not entirely surprised. We also drove past a McDonalds that was advertising a "BigAmerican" burger, written just like that in camel case, and frankly it looked delicious.
I was already falling down on the journaling. I just wrote "We hiked." Nice.
I wrote "Stopped keeping a journal. Typical AF." According to the itinerary, we went to Safed this day. It's an ancient, very spiritual city and it was beautiful. We talked about kabbalah with this artist that sounded impossibly stoned, and I realized not for the first time how much I don't know about Judaism.
We also met the 7 Israelis that would be joining our trip for the next few days. When the first girl got on the bus, I thought "Wow, I've never seen anyone this beautiful in real life." And then the second girl got on, and I was like "wow, that's crazy that the two most beautiful people I've ever seen in real life are on this bus with me right now." And then the third girl got on, and I was like "wow, how great to feel like a spotted ground squirrel in this nation of actual supermodels."
We went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum. It was horrible and beautiful and gut wrenching and beautiful. It made me sad and mad and hopeful. In my iPhone note journal all I wrote was "I like everyone all the time, but I like these people especially." That only became truer and truer as the trip went on.
First we went to the national cemetery, where every Israeli soldier that died in war is buried. I love cemeteries. Half of my instagrams are me hanging out in old cemeteries. But this was heartbreaking and sobering.
All the tombstones have ages. Everyone was so young. I was keeping it together until I came to one that said "20 1/2." Not 20. 20-and-a-half. My brother is 20-and-a-half, and this boy was someone's brother, and I cried behind my sunglasses. Regardless of politics, we can all agree that 20-and-a-half year olds should be playing video games and drinking bad beer and living. This was my hardest activity.
But then we went to the Cotel, where the Western Wall is, for shabbat. That was my favorite activity. We met this random dude named Yitzi and he taught us hebrew songs and we danced in circles and laughed and it was the most wholesome fun I've had in years. The note I stuck in the Wall was rolled up like a joint, and I don't know if prayers work like birthday wishes and you have to keep them secret, but I do know that I finally understood why we say "next year in Jerusalem."
We sat at a park and met a bunch of dogs and I actually breathed for the first time since we got there. At night, we went to a shuk (market) and got too drunk and too happy and I didn't even feel tired.
We went to Masada, an ancient castle ruin. I fell twice on the 45 minute hike down the steep, windy mountain. The first time I just sort of stumbled to the side. The second time I essentially did a slip-and-slide, my full body sliding in the dirt for several feet before coming to a stop before I could even think. It didn't hurt that badly, but that's probably because I was showing off (lying) about how calm and cool I can be. The next day I felt like I got slammed by a bus.
We also went to the dead sea. I floated for about 2 minutes in the freezing water until the salt started to burn, and then I got out and covered myself in 10 shekels worth of dead sea mud until THAT started to burn, and then we just layed in the sun while I, once again, burned. I know this trip was about discovering my Jewish identity, but I also discovered my Irish identity in a real way.
At night we stayed in a bedouin tent in the desert. I'm still rehydrating.
Allie, Bushwick Cool Malia and I woke up early to watch the sun rise. It was beautiful and freezing. Then we rode camels. I wasn't totally sure what pictures to include in this blog post, but this photo set is truly too funny to keep to myself. Did you know you can piss off a camel and did you know that when you do piss off a camel, they SNARL at you?
I spent most of this day coming to terms with the end of our trip. We bought souvenirs in Tel Aviv and then a bunch of our group was Bar/Bat Mitzvaed on a stage overlooking the beach in Jaffa. It was beautiful. It reminded me how important it felt to "choose" Judaism when I was 13. It also reminded me how awkward I was at 13 and how much smarter it would have been to wait until I was hot and surrounded by other hot people. Next time.
At night we went to this horrible club where the music was loud and bad and the drinks were expensive and bad and we blew the last of our shekels and enjoyed each other anyway.
We said goodbye, then boarded a 12 hour flight home. I'm not POSITIVE, but I think I fell asleep on the man in the seat next to me's shoulder. I could be wrong, but I definitely woke up to a deeper sense of intimacy and familiarity than we had when I fell asleep, and I slept for 7 hours, so. Then we got off the flight and said goodbye again, and then we went to baggage claim and said goodbye again, and then we took transit together and said goodbye again, and now my WhatsApp is still blowing up with everyone saying goodbye.
If I had to summarize my trip in one word, I'd say "sababa." It means "cool." It was basically the only hebrew word I learned on this trip, other than "bak book blee p'kak," which means "you have an empty head" but which I was using to mean literally everything from "hello!" to "go to hell!"
And now I'm sitting at work feeling exhausted and emotional and the only way I can think to end this recap is with a photo of this group of strangers that felt like a family. But like a family you have crushes on.