Friday, August 18, 2017

What was your first time like? Reflections of an Israel newbie


By Lori Feldman

If someone would have asked me BEFORE my landing in Israel, "What is one word you would use to describe your first visit to Israel?" I most likely would have said "amazing," "inspirational," or maybe even "unexpected." Now that my trip is complete, the word I would use is "family."  

Everywhere we turned, people treated our group like family. We were welcomed to experience life from a perspective of being home. We were made to feel we have always been family and would continue to be no matter where we call home at the end of the trip.

Traveling throughout Israel there was never a feeling of being unsafe. We became a part of the daily ebb and flow. Now, don't kid yourself, most people who live there do not go to four or more attractions per day! Our group was on the move all day, every day, to take in as much as we could within the limits of our tour.

Planting a tree in her mother's memory
As we drove from place to place, our five-star tour guide, Gili Houpt, blended geographic knowledge with biblical history. I was continuously amazed by his knowledge and personal connection to each site. Of course, I began to think I should have paid more attention in Sunday school so many years back! I was surprised I could not answer many of the questions I had expected to be able to answer/discuss. But of course, since my cup is always 3/4 full, I had room to muster the will to refresh my long-lost learnings to use on future trips back to Israel.

To my surprise, I was able to participate fully in every activity that was in my sight. I was concerned that my recently shattered ankle would make it impossible to do everything. Well, I was wrong. Even though many surfaces were uneven, there were plenty of stops along the way to rest and regain energy. Who would have thought that ancient structures would be accessible? Surely not myself.

Since my return, I'm constantly asked, "So how was your trip? Weren't you afraid?" I tell them that this is the exact question I would have asked before my travels. I would tell a first-time traveler to Israel to go with the expectation of joy, awe, and adventure. To not get caught up in the slant of the news we hear about Israel in the States. I would insist on attempting to travel to as many parts of the country to show the diversity and wonders that each area offers.

At the Dead Sea. 
I would be hard pressed to name a favorite part of my trip. How could one compare the visits of kibbutzim to Yad Vashem, 9/11 Memorial, or the Kotel in the same breath? How could I top planting a tree in honor of my mother for whom we would have an unveiling at the cemetery soon after returning? It is just too difficult.

However, I think what quietly stands out is the amazing young people of the Israel Defense Force (IDF). Everywhere we turned we saw young soldiers either protecting or deepening their historical knowledge of Israel. I tried to thank as many as I could throughout my tour.
            
And now I sit back home in the middle of the USA, among numerous mementos of our travels, and ponder if all of this was just an amazing dream, or a lifetime of memories packed in to nine days. I feel as if I have gained more depth and insight. So now you know. My one word for Israel is FAMILY.

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