An eye-opening vacation

T&V associate editor takes trip to Israel

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Israeli soldiers smile for the camera. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Israeli soldiers smile for the camera. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Through funding from the Israeli government and private donors, the Taglit-Birthright organization allows almost any American with Jewish ancestry the chance to experience Israel through a 10-day trip throughout the country. The possibility of such a trip has been on my radar since I found out about it in college but even though I love traveling, and took the opportunity to study abroad twice in school, I procrastinated until the last few months that I would be eligible. The cut-off age is 27 and my 27th birthday is in the fall, so this summer was the last chance I would have to take advantage of this opportunity. So during the first two weeks of this July, I did.

There were a number of reasons that I initially put off going to Israel through Birthright: I felt like I had plenty of time, I didn’t want to go by myself, I didn’t think I was religious enough. The main reason, though, is the one I imagine most people give for opting not to go on Birthright, even if they are eligible: what if a full-on war breaks out in the middle of my trip?

The safety measures that Taglit implements are no joke. The organization boasts that they have not had any incidents with participants, even though trips continued throughout the 2006 Lebanon War. Despite these statistics, I’m not sure how much it quelled my mother’s anxiety to know that I would be arriving in the country on the day that Israel would be mourning three yeshiva students who had been killed by Hamas and found only a few days before. Only a few hours after I arrived, a Palestinian teenager was lit on fire and left to die in a revenge killing. Three Israeli Jews are now suspects.

On Tuesday, July 8, we spent the night in the middle of the Negev desert in one of the few places for the whole ten days where we were without wi-fi when a man came into our tent to tell us that Israel had started sending missiles into Gaza. He said that the prime minister had told the IDF to “take their gloves off” against Hamas and use any means necessary to restore peace in Israel. He added that although violence should usually be a last resort, it was necessary to bring peace to the country.

The previous Saturday, on July 5, we were supposed to have a political seminar about the current situation in the country but in a weird twist, we were told that the speaker who was supposed to meet us couldn’t leave his city because of rocket fire. We were also told that this was normal and that he was going to be fine, so this just meant that our talk was postponed a day.

While it was true that he was safe, it was clear that my idea of “normal” and the idea of “normal” for everyday life in Israel was vastly different. And while one of our group leaders, Dayna Simon, told us that the low-flying military planes we could hear throughout the night while we were in the desert were there to protect us, the closeness of the planes’ roars was still unsettling.

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