|Photo by Nathan Scherotter
Over winter break, several of my friends from Temple Emanuel and I traveled to Israel for what turned out to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
As part of a group of 40 college students from all over the United States, for 10 days we went on a cultural, educational and spiritual journey through an area of the world rich with history, religious significance and conflict.
The trip we took was sponsored by Taglit-Birthright Israel which, according to its website, provides a gift of first-time, peer-group, educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26 from around the world.
Taglit-Birthright Israel is a unique partnership between the people of Israel through their government, leading Jewish philanthropists and local Jewish communities. The donations to run this program have reached as high as $120 million in a year.
We were able to see and experience many of the historical sights that have been written about for thousands of years – Jerusalem, the Wailing Wall, the Dead Sea, the Golan Heights, plus lots more.
However, our trip was even more unique and interesting than what I had expected.
Just days before we left, Israel declared war against Hamas, a terrorist group in the Gaza Strip, southwest of Israel. This caused my family and me great concern about the safety and security of the trip.
However, we were reassured by the precautions that the Birthright trip organizers take on each and every trip to mitigate the risks.
The land of Israel has been an area of disagreement and war for thousands of years. While we were there, the country was hit with missiles, and Israel responded with attacks of its own. Yet, at no time during my stay was I worried about my security. It was exciting, of course. Not only were we learning about the history of Israel—we were part of it.
Our days were filled with walks through beautiful mountains, exploring busy markets and sampling the traditional cuisine of falafel and shwarma.
We received daily security updates, and only one scheduled hiking activity had to be cancelled due to precautions in the area on that day. We had to take extra care when going into public places. It was the first time I had ever seen security forces with automatic weapons in a public shopping mall. But that is normal there. Israelis know they are always at risk, and the government does whatever is considers necessary to try to keep Israeli citizens as safe as possible.
To minimize the danger during our trip, we were accompanied by an armed soldier from the time we got off the plane until we departed for our return home—standard procedure for every group on a Birthright trip.
In Israel every citizen who grows up in the country must serve in some part of the military. Five soldiers between the ages of 18 and 24 actually joined us for five days of our trip, which was a unique experience in itself, giving us an opportunity to learn what it is really like to be a young adult in Israel and participate in a war. One of the soldiers had to leave our trip for a day to attend the funeral of his friend, who had been killed in action.
We even had the honor of attending services for another soldier who died after being hit by friendly fire. And while it was obvious we were tourists at the funeral, the group thanked us for showing our support.
While there have been protests in many parts of the world, every person we spoke with defended their country’s attacks on Gaza as a means of protecting the Israeli people and their land.
Overall, it was an eye-opening trip. To see the beauty of the land, the awesomeness of the ancient historical sights, the rich culture and the spirit and passion of the Israeli people made for an amazing experience I won’t soon forget.
Editor’s note: Nathan Scherotter is a 2007 graduate of Corona del Sol High School and a regular contributor to Wrangler News. He currently is a business major at Arizona State University.