I just returned from a 10-day trip to Israel sponsored by the Birthright Israel Foundation. Birthright’s mission is to offer a transformative “educational journey through the Jewish homeland.” As an introverted young adult, I had lots of anxiety about doing this trip, not ever having been to Israel before and not knowing anyone in my tour group. Thankfully, Birthright did everything possible to make the experience terrific.
My group included Hunter College students with whom I easily connected. The chaperons were kind and well-informed.
I arrived at Ben Gurion Airport eager to explore the sites. Our first stop was Tiberias, an ancient city on the Sea of Galilee. From there we visited a nature preserve and hiked to a lookout point in the Golan Heights. Overlooking Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, it was easy to understand the importance of the Golan Heights to Israel’s security. We rafted down the Jordan River and visited Safed, a center of Jewish mysticism.
Jerusalem was amazing. I was struck by the beauty of this city as our bus climbed the Judean hills and the Temple Mount came into view. We were now in a place representing the intersection of three major western religions, each different but having much in common. Highlights included the Western Wall and Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center honoring the six million Jews who died. Also unforgettable were the food markets, boutiques and restaurants of modern Jerusalem, and the Arab Souk in the Old City.
From Jerusalem we visited an Israeli Kibbutz and overnighted in a Bedouin tent in the Judean Desert. I did not get much sleep, but the view of the stars was magnificent and the desert conjured up thoughts of Moses and the Israelites after the exodus from Egypt.
We left our Bedouin hosts at 5 a.m. and headed for Masada, an ancient fortress built by King Herod. The views from Masada were breathtaking and knowing the history of this place — where the last Jewish holdouts of the Jewish-Roman Wars took their own lives — made it all the more meaningful. We cooled off in the Dead Sea but, unfortunately, did not have time to visit the Qumran caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.
Our last stop was Tel Aviv, a vibrant city on the Mediterranean, with a thriving tech industry.
The trip was way too short, but the experience was transformative and the memories will last forever.
To learn more about Birthright Israel Foundation, visit birthrightisrael.foundation.
Alec Zuckerman is a tennis pro at Sutton East Tennis in Manhattan. He is pursuing a degree in history at CUNY Hunter College, where he is a member of Hunter Hillel. He spends weekends in Westhampton Beach.