Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Seeing is Believing

Moms--an endless source of exhaustion, but also an endless source of inspiration. 

When my mom was 22, she went to live in Israel for a year. The 'experience of her lifetime', she would call it. So when it came time for me to register to go to Birthright, she strongly encouraged me to do it. I was interested, but slightly apathetic. "Go," she told me. "You have to see it to understand it".

And with that, I registered. Rewind to December 2008 when my friend Courtney and I made our way over to the Promised Land, excited, sleep deprived and not knowing what to expect.

What Birthright provides is unbelievable--a chance to experience your homeland and culture in a mere ten days. It is by no means enough time to explore every part of Israel, but rather it leaves you wanting--even craving--more. As someone who had never questioned their faith, going to Israel served as an affirmation that my Judaism was an intricate and important part of who I was. Standing in front of the Western Wall left me speechless and for those who know me, having nothing to say is a rare occurrence. Floating in the Dead Sea in the throws of winter, camping out in a Bedoin tent in 30 degree weather and waking up at 5 a.m. to ride a camel are all things I never imaged I would be able to do. Hiking Masada, even though not at sunrise, gave me literal perspective on how life changing a trip like this could be. At the top I was able to view miles and miles of beautiful and quiet desert and there was nothing but Israel in front of me.

 And then there were the quieter, more solemn moments like our visit to Yad Veshem. I had visited the Holocaust Memorial in Washington D.C. but this had a more profound impact. Because of the atrocities that filled the strikingly beautiful and modern building, the need and urgency for the state of Israel--a home for Jewish people-- arose. When we visited Mount Herzl with our Israeli soldiers, there was an ominous silence that surrounded our Birthright group when we stopped at a grave of one of their friends. We stood as a unified group, silent and emotional, realizing that without the great sacrifice of those soldiers, Israel would cease to exist. At that moment, I had never been prouder to be Jewish.

 And so I hate to admit it, but my mother was right. You had to be in Israel, experience the people, the culture and the religion to understand why its existence is so important. My Birthright trip to Israel gave me a personal connection to a homeland, rather than an assumed affiliation to a country and for that I am eternally grateful. 

It is my hope that each and every Jewish young adult will be able to have this same experience. Birthright registration has opened today and the University of Florida Hillel will be taking students this summer. My experiences are a mere sampling of what you will be able to see and do when you get to Israel, thus I encourage you to explore your heritage and Judaism by registering for what will undoubtedly be a defining moment in your life.

This blog post was written by Jessica, the Jewish Student Life Coordinator at UF Hillel. She can be reached at Jessica@ufhillel.org. Follow her on Twitter @jess_davis78!

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For instructions on how to register, see the box below. To register, click here: http://www.birthrightisrael.com/site/PageServer?pagename=trip_to_experts_main .

Here you will:
-Provide your basic information
-Select IsraelExperts as your trip organizer
-Sign a waiver
-Submit a deposit payment
-Confirm your e-mail

**Our trip dates have not been finalized and will only be finalized when registration closes. The tip will most likely be in early may BUT please select the month you prefer to go.

2. Complete your application at the IsrealExperts InfoCenter
Within 24-28 hours of registration, you will receive an email from IsraelExperts. You will be asked to continue your application process using an IsraelExperts InfoCenter profile created for you--the login information will be provided. Here you will need to follow these steps:

Choose the University of Florida trip:
- Provide medical information including: medical needs, emergency contact information and medical insurance details
-Note your friend and/or family requests
-Upload passport (See step #3)

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