Seeing as this is my 1296th program to Israel, I’ve become accustomed to the standard routine of the beginning days of a given trip. Ice breakers at the airport. Long and silent bus rides to the hotel. Jewish geography. And, most notably, we would always start the program at a relatively major city whether Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, or Tiberius. All cities with bars and restaurants that leads one to grabbing whatever group of students one can round up in the lobby in order to hit these places. This handful of people ultimately results in becoming your clique for the trip with everyone else holding a secondary friendship status. Your basic social norms for any Israel program.
Yet this couldn’t be further from what I’ve experienced in the initial stretch of this trip. Excluding the first 12 hours, which were spent in Tel Aviv, we’ve spent the entirety of the trip thus far in the Galilee and the Golan Heights. Living in such a rural part of the Jewish state has only led this group to forming strong connections and bonds with one another because, frankly, we don’t have a single temptation to do otherwise. We’ve spent our time learning about each other’s beliefs and convictions, all while taking in the beauty of northern Israel. We exchange methods of fighting anti-Semitism and laugh together at absurd stories of anti-Israel manifestations we’ve encountered. We are all taking a small step out of our comfort zone to sit and speak with others that otherwise wouldn’t be a possibility if we isolated ourselves in the bars of Ben Yehuda. Simply put, this trip is the farthest thing from your Birthright trip.
Such a group atmosphere is further advanced when close to half of the participants adhere to a faith that isn’t Judaism. Such a phenomenon has only led me to wanting to connect more with others through the common ground we share in loving Israel. Israel is a subject and country I hold closely to my heart, and to say it is inspiring to share these experiences with Jew and non-Jews alike would be a severe understatement.
I’ve only appreciated the fact that the ZOA has shown us nothing but the unfiltered reality of life on the ground with Jews and Muslims. It is these stories and firsthand accounts that will render us effective in combatting hate on campus and beyond.