George Mason University student Katie Weintraub '14 reflects on her recent Taglit-Birthright Israel: Hillel trip experience.
As I stepped outside Ben Gurion airport, I was taken aback, not by the fiery Israeli sun, but by the warmth of the welcome of our new Israeli friends. As we journeyed up through the Golan Heights, down to the Dead Sea, and everywhere in between, I was equally moved by a truly unique experience. Back home, I am part of a religious minority; I grew up as the only Jewish kid in the same neighborhood as Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network. Being in Israel was an exciting new experience, where being Jewish is more than your religion -- it’s the culture, the people, and most importantly being Jewish means belonging to this colossal family.
While I had attended Hebrew school and had my Bat Mitzvah, making the journey to Israel was my way to reconnect with my Jewish roots and see this holy land I had only heard about. It’s one thing to read or watch documentaries about Israel, but to actually have that tangible experience was something I craved. That first Shabbat in Tiberias, viewing the Israeli-Syrian border from the Golan Heights, visiting the Israeli Defense Forces base, walking through Yad Vashem and the National Cemetery, and kicking back with our group on the beaches in Tel Aviv -- those experiences made Israel tangible, and more than the geo-politically conflicted land often misrepresented and plagued by over-generalization in the media.
As we trekked around Israel, what I found even more remarkable than the generosity of the Israelis we encountered, is how quickly a group of about 40 relative strangers had become a tight-knit family. Not only did the experience of Taglit-Birthright Israel truly mold our group of Americans and Israelis into a family, but we all seemed to find a sense of home in the Jewish homeland. As we all make efforts to stay in touch, plans to return to Israel, as well as make plans to host our Israel friends after they finish their service in the army, it is clear that the warmth we experienced throughout our journey left us with bigger hearts and a deep connection with the nation and people of Israel.
Katie Weintraub grew up in Virginia Beach, VA. Prior to attending George Mason, she was a member of Ohef Sholom Temple in Norfolk, VA. Katie is an avid outdoors adventurer.