From the streets of Tsfat to the heights of Mt. Masada

-by Spencer Gruber

Similar to many people travelling to Israel for the first time, I was eager to learn the history behind the birthplace of our religion and people. I had heard many stories from other members of my Temple’s congregation, friends, and family members about their experiences in Israel, and one common sentiment that I inferred was the feeling of a “religious awakening”. Now, while I thought I knew every emotion one can experience as a 22 year-old, this was not one of them.

After enduring the flights from Memphis to Tel Aviv, one could expect to be fatigued. However, there’s no time for exhaustion because of the tight schedule throughout our trip.  From the streets of Tsfat to the heights of Mt. Gruber Greenstein Birthright ImageMasada, to the Dead Sea and Jerusalem, the country itself is magnificently beautiful, and can only be fully experienced firsthand. Attempting to describe the scenery would be doing any person who has never been a disservice.

While we had the opportunity to learn the antiquity behind each site we passed while travelling across the country via our tour guide, and also, learn from a well-versed instructor on the background and current events involving conflicts in Israel and the Middle East, our most important learning tool joined us a few days into our trip.

Americans on Birthright have the opportunity to interact with Israeli soldiers, who also chose to utilize this unique opportunity available to them. This presents a setting for similar, yet different, individuals to probe each other. We discussed everything ranging from hesitancies of meeting each other, to issues within our home-countries, to what we can do to grow our Jewish roots into the future. We even transgressed the deeper conversations, and many formed close relationships, with whom they would consider a “foreigner”, in a short period together.

Each person who visits makes the trip for their own set of reasons and has their unique individual experience. I think the reason many people feel a “religious awakening” after visiting, especially on their first trip, can be attributed to the people you meet, places you see, history learned, and experiences enjoyed that evoke a sense of pride for many from something new that they’ve ascertained.

Spencer Gruber, a senior at University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, participated in a Birthright Israel trip through Kesher, a project of Union for Reform Judaism, in December 2015-January 2016. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund supports Birthright Israel through an annual grant. To date, 424 Jewish young adults from Memphis have participated in a Birthright trip.
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