Friendliness, beauty defy Israel’s wartorn stereotype

Western Wall in Jerusalem with Dome of the Rock (the gold dome) behind it. As in all visits, military presence is pronounced and visible. In this photo, the soldiers in the background were not there for security but for educational purposes; their training requires visiting the religious and cultural sites of Israel. Although guns are a constant companion, they are not allowed in places of religious significance.

This past month I was fortunate to have an opportunity to travel to Israel for 10 days, along with 40 of my peers.Initially I was apprehensive about embarking on this adventure, primarily because those 40 peers were, only a month ago, 40 strangers.

However, the entire experience greatly exceeded my expectations. And, of course, I’m thankful for the all the donors, as well as the Taglit Birthright organization, for making the trip possible.

Like any American traveling to Israel for the first time, I knew only what I’d heard from my friends and the media. However, after experiencing Israel, its culture and its people first hand, I quickly recognized its inherent beauty.

Whereas media outlets are prone to focus more on the controversy surrounding Israel’s ongoing conflict with Palestine, there is much more than political struggle to this vibrant and historical nation. Granted, the threat is real and the military presence is visible, especially considering that military service is mandatory, but Israelis live their lives in a way that is wholly unique.

Because of the incessant threat, there are many security precautions that have become part of everyday life and that may initially appear strange to outsiders.

However, in my view, these necessary precautions have made the country extremely safe. For example, all school and youth groups have armed security guards; there is security outside every building, and abandoned bags are quickly disposed of by bomb disposal robots – something I witnessed first-hand at a yogurt shop in Tel Aviv.

Despite all the challenges that exist in the region, Israel shows evidence of doing quite well. Every city we traveled to had a horizon dominated by sky cranes and was populated by incredibly warm and open people.

No matter where you go in the country, you are constantly meeting Israelis who seemingly without hesitation invite you into their home or ask you to join them for Shabbat dinner. The warmth of these people was reinforced by the eight Israeli soldiers who joined our trip for a few days and with whom I became good friends. I even was able to see them again in Tel Aviv after the trip was over. Although they were in the army, to me they were still normal 18-21 year olds.

It was not only the warmth of the Israeli people that made an impression on me.  I was, in a way, awestruck by the way the Israeli people carried themselves and seemed to live with a purpose.

Despite some political separation in the country, the Israelis seemed to me an incredibly united people aware of the world around them and their shared desire to fight for survival.

Although the landscape was similar to that of Arizona, it possessed its own majestic beauty, much like the country’s inhabitants.

By Jason Soronson

Editor’s note: Jason Soronson graduated from Corona del Sol High School in 2009 and is a senior at ASU majoring in justice studies and minoring in business.  He plans to attend law school after graduating from ASU in the spring.

For those looking for a new, exciting—and worthwhile—place to travel, where the people are warm and inviting, Israel indeed should be at the top of the list.



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