Ok, I’m the first to admit it. I’ve been super spoiled. I’ve traveled everywhere and there’s not a day that I don’t reminisce and recognize how lucky I am. Here are some of the most amazing places I’ve visited:
3: Jerusalem, Israel
I had heard that there was an organization called Birthright, that gives anyone of Jewish decent a free trip to the homeland. I thought it was a hoax, but I had to apply anyway. A minute after sending in the application, I got an email that they were going to call me for an interview.
I panicked because I’m only half Jewish and I’m not religious at all. I quickly skimmed Wikipedia articles about Judaism and reviewed the few Yiddish words my Grandma used to say: mishigas (craziness), kvetch (complain), mazl-tov (congrats), zay gezundt (bless you), shlemil (fool). A minute later a guy called and asked,
“Have you ever been to Isreal?”
“Would you like to go?”
“Alright, you can go on our June trip!”
“What?!? That’s mishigas!”
A few months later I was eating olives on a Kibbutz, riding a camel across the Negev desert, playing Frisbee with Bedouins, sticking a prayer in between the cracks of the Western Wall, and floating in the dead sea. I kept waiting for the catch, for them to say, “alright pay up.” But it was completely free. Yes, free. The plane ticket, ground transportation, food, hotels, everything was free.
Israel was the most peaceful place I’ve ever visited. In the old quarter, there’s a Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Armenian, and Moroccan section. All the people who live there seem untied by their mutual respect of the hallowed ground. In the major cities you could hear the birds flying. All the buildings in Jerusalem are made from the same white stone, so it looks like the whole city is carved out of a giant, white mountain. Every building or monument we visited was at least 1000 years old. And the people were beyond friendly.
I didn’t run out and plan my Bat Mitvah after the trip and I’m certainly not a zionist, but I left Israel feeling a great pride in my heritage. I would definitely go back – even if I have to pay! If anyone in your family’s history is Jewish I would highly recommend contacting Birthright. And even if you’re not Jewish I’ve heard of a lot of churches and mosques organizing discounted trips. And even if you’re not familiar with monotheism, you should still go!
p.s. if you visit the dead sea don’t shave your legs beforehand.
- The Old City of Jerusalem (sharinhislove.wordpress.com)
- Adventure travel with a purpose in Israel’s Negev Desert (gadling.com)