By Jamie Gorson '16
It was late May when I boarded a plane with 39 other Boston Area college students ready for a whirlwind tour of the country we've always dreamed about.
Well, some of us. Ever since I was a girl in Hebrew school, I've always had a connection to Judaism and Israel. Going to Israel had been a dream of mine, and was fulfilled for the first time five years ago. But, not everyone on the trip had the same connection as me, at the beginning. In fact, many didn't consider themselves Jewish by religion and were going purely for a travel experience. What they didn't realize when they left was how much of an impact this trip would have on their perspective.
Jamie and her Birthright group (joined by Oliners Greg '15, Nicole '16, Evan '16 and Ian '15) in front of a mosaic on the wall separating Israel and Gaza.
I went on CJP Boston Area College Taglit-Birthright Trip, filled with students from MIT, Olin, Brandeis, Wellesley and other Boston Area schools. We traveled around Israel, starting in the North, visiting Tel Aviv, the Negev and finishing in Jerusalem. As the trip progressed, I saw a change in some of my friends. They began to think more of their Jewish roots and developed a newfound connection to Israel. I first observed this after we met a Kabbalistic painter Avraham. Avraham taught us about his paintings and the meaning behind them. He spoke greatly about the spirit of your name, and how learning the meaning of it isn't a simple feat but a long adventure. This sparked a curiosity for many students, who were now interested in deciphering the meaning behind their names.
As we went our way along the trip, we discovered even more ways to connect to ourselves and Israel. Writing notes into the Western Wall was very self-reflective. Even for those who don't believe in the ritual aspect, they learned more about themselves by writing this note. Seeing Har Herztl (a military and political cemetery) truly brought greater meaning to everything we had learned about the state of Israel and its inception. The respect for each army member, and their dedication was evident. The remembrance of founding members of the country was glorious in the representation. And the metaphor of the mountain, how from Hertzl's grave we can see the saddest point in our history, Yad Vashem (the Holocaust museum), and the happiest point on the other side of the mountain, the Keneset (the Israeli government).
In the end, the biggest change that I saw was at the bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies. Five members of our group felt inspired by our trip that they wanted to become bar or bat mitzvahs. To me, it was inspiring how much they felt connected to Israel and their Judaism, especially since I had witnessed their initial thoughts. Some talked about how the trip had affected them, others talked about how they want to incorporate Judaism into their lives and most of them confirmed that they wanted to visit Israel again. I was so proud of each of them.
Olin's Greg ('15) and three other Boston area college students becoming B'nai Mitzvah in Jerusalem.
After this trip, I realized the importance for young Jewish adults to see Israel. By surrounding ourselves with peers, both American and Israeli, we were able to see many perspectives on Judaism. The trip truly taught them, and me, a lot about Israel, about Judaism and ourselves.