Over the past eight months, I have gone through a lot of changes. I knew traveling to Israel would begin my process of healing, but what I didn’t know was how much it would influence my outlook on life.

Because of the hardships I had battled, my Israel experience was different than many of my friend’s experiences. These difficulties include the loss of my great-grandfather, ending a major relationship and having my vulnerabilities taken advantage of by someone close to me. Because of all of these factors, I initially didn’t want to go to Israel and struggled through the first few days. That said, I am unbelievably happy I went. As Jewish youths, we can take advantage of a 10-day trip to Israel courtesy of Birthright International. This is an adventure where sharing our differences brings us together. How special is that?

For many, the Holy Land is an eye-opening experience. What impacted me the most, however, were the relationships I formed. There aren’t many experiences where people are brought together for a 10-day period and travel across a country side by side with absolutely no breaks. Unless you count the moments when the group collectively passes out on the bus, soaked in desert-induced sweat and remnants of the Dead Sea. You truly are tested on this trip. What a time to find yourself, am I right?

When I arrived at the airport to head back to the states, I cried.

I cried because I felt myself getting stronger. I faced my fears and pushed myself every day. I cried because the friendships I formed were incredibly life changing and I was going to miss the Israelis who grew so close to my heart. Most importantly, I cried happy tears because Israel changed me. I had discovered more about the person I was in the span of 10 days than in three years leading up to the trip. I became less judgmental and more compassionate. I started walking in other people’s shoes rather than stuck in the confines of my puzzled brain.

There is something to say about the bonds that bloom on Birthright. It’s profoundly unique. We are all so similar yet exceptionally different. These people who had just met me dropped everything to help in my time of need. They took on my problems as if they were their own and became my family. They didn’t look at me as over-dramatic (like many do – and I don’t blame them). They held me when I cried and taught me an entirely new outlook of appreciation.

People I rarely spoke to gave me the clothes off of their back and wrapped them around my neck at the top of Masada when I got sick. I had found a second family that cried for me when I couldn’t myself. Never in my life had I encountered such kindness, love and purely genuine individuals.

Coming from the girl who didn’t want to go to Israel: You will survive the Bedouin tents. You will make it up that mountain and you will change as a person. Whether it is the land, the people, the experiences, the food, the culture, you name it. Israel will change your life in one way or another. If you have the opportunity to go, don’t waste it.

Sydney Friedman is the Violet Spevack Editorial Intern.

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