How can I explain Israel but to say that it felt like I was coming home for the first time. Israel is the motherland, the historical land of the Jews and Jewish tradition holds a connection to the land in a relationship which is arguably the strongest in the world between a People and a Land. What other people or nation of this world do you find such yearning and identity with their land?
It was an incredible honor to be able to fly in just a few hours to the places where my ancestors might have willingly walked for months had they been able to make the trip. I saw the sights that my ancestors have wailed to be rebuilt for millennia and I freely walked through the streets of Jerusalem in a way which my ancestors of so many centuries could only dream of doing.
It was really an amazing experience and yet in a way oddly familiar. It wasn't like I was feeling deja vu, but I felt so comfortable wherever I went and in things that I did that I could have almost have passed for a native had my Hebrew been up to par. The guide on my Birthright trip asked me at least three times if I had ever been to Israel before and expressed surprise when I answered that I hadn't. I don't know what it was exactly, but going to Israel was a lot like going home.
Maybe it was the whole accommodating environment for Jewish observance. Hotel door locks were manufactured for both card swipers and mechanical keys. Kosher food was the rule and not kosher food the exception. Or maybe it was the solid feeling of Jewish brotherhood that pervaded the air. Of course there were many different kinds of Jews from all over the religious, political, and geographical map, but still one would call to the other, "Achi." I felt a kind of security that I just don't feel anywhere else.
But more than anything else, I think it was my deep feeling of historical connection to the land and to the Jewish events which transpired there. Every inch of Israel is smothered in history and walking through it following the paths of Abraham, of David, of Isaiah, of the Chashmonaim, of Ben-Gurion, of the IDF troops who liberated the land and all the rest leaves me feeling breathless. Our story is long and seeing the Jews strong again in their land tells me that it is far from over.