Mike Arkus of Huffington Post
I did not want to go to Israel for the senior trip when I first heard about it. Frankly, I was nervous. I was concerned about going to the Middle East and experiencing the violence that Israel endures daily. In addition, I was intimidated to try new foods because I’m a picky eater. I was nervous that I wouldn’t acquire tastes with foods such as falafel and shawarma. Although most Israelis speak English–some even fluently–I was nervous about how I would communicate with those who did not. I knew very little Hebrew and lacked a strong Judaism background. I’m a reform Jew who never went to a Jewish school until Weber, and after my Bar Mitzvah, I stopped attending Hebrew school. After consideration of these things I was nearly certain that I would stay at school during the Israel trip.
Then, I had a conversation with a senior last year, a few days after he got back from his own Israel trip. We conversed for about 15 minutes before I confessed to him that I wouldn’t be going. He responded that I would be making the biggest mistake of my high school career if I passed up this once-in-a-lifetime trip. He convinced me to go by describing the memories he gained, the new foods he tried, the people he met, and the things he learned; I was in awe and decided to go.
So, what exactly convinced me to go? Was it something specific that he said to stimulate my curiosity? Quite simply, it was how much he said he learned. It was how he explained the purpose of each location and how they were all special in their own way. It didn’t feel like an educational trip to him because he had fun while learning. I didn’t believe him about how much fun learning was, that is until I went to experience it for myself.
While in Israel, I only felt in danger in S’derot, a small town that has been the main target of many of the 13,000+ rockets that have been shot from Gaza, according to a Huffington Post article from May, 2015. Aside from this, I tried many new foods, such as falafel dipped in unique hummus flavors, and enjoyed every moment that I had while eating some of my favorite meals (especially those that were not from chain restaurants). Meanwhile, I saw 6 million proud Israeli citizens alongside tens of thousands of tourists soaking in the same historical sights as me: the Gaza Strip, the Western Wall, Ben Yehuda St. in Jerusalem. This was one of the most significant places we went to; it showed us first-hand what it looks like to live in fear and violence.
At playground in the middle of S’derot that we went to, the walls of the tunnel to the right are covered with graffiti and different signs of warning. One of the signs reads, “When you hear the red alarm get inside the shelter beyond the orange line,” to guide children and adults where to stand during an airstrike attack. The orange line is on the ground inside of the tunnel.
My favorite place we went to was the Western Wall. We went there for our first Shabbat, and it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. Seeing it in pictures and in movies is one thing, but in person it is indescribable. As I went through the security gate, I could see the left corner of the wall. After a walk of about 100 feet, I passed the tall barrier, turned right, and there it was. The remaining side of the Second Temple was right in front of me. I couldn’t help help but embrace the tears falling down my cheeks. I’d been waiting for this moment for what seemed like a longevity. We did so much in the few hours we were there, from dancing and singing songs with IDF soldiers, to putting notes into the ancient holes of the Wall. As I put my note in one of these openings, I placed my hand on the Wall to say a prayer. I had a spiritual connection that I had never felt before and it brought butterflies. In that moment, I felt the most peace than I had ever been before.
There are many opportunities to go to Israel that you will encounter in your life. For example, you have the birthright experience when you get to college. This is a free 10-day trip to Israel and Poland. You travel with people 18-26 years old, and when you have your free time, you have to stay in your assigned groups for safety.
Going on this trip is not mandatory, it is not an obligation, nor a life-or-death decision. However, if you are in the position to go, do not hesitate. It is an opportunity that you should take advantage of, and if you do go, it will be filled with memories to last a lifetime. I wasn’t intending on going to Israel, and I must confess that I almost made the biggest mistake of my high school career by nearly doing that.