This past summer, I decided it was time to go on my birthright to Israel. That decision changed my life. With 40 other students from New York, I traveled to the tiny state that was imbedded with so much culture and history. Soon enough these 40 strangers became my new family, my misphacha. Around the fourth day of our trip, our mishpacha grew when 8 soldiers of the IDF joined us on our journey, not only to new locations but to try new foods, teach us new ideas and develop new perspectives. The Rabbi asked if anyone would like to offer his or her seat on the bus to sit next to a soldier. I immediately jumped at the opportunity and it was the best decision I had made during my 10 days in Israel, well, that and the Israeli chocolate pudding. A female soldier named Rosa, who was exactly my age, sat down next to me. Despite the awkwardness in the first couple of minutes, we discovered that we had much in common.
During the next 4 to 5 days , Rosa and I sat together on the bus and talked about everything. We talked about school, politics, culture, and everything in between. As she taught me about her responsibilities as a soldier, she learned about my “American” experiences and stories from college. Within such a short amount of time, I was glad to call her one of my best friends, and even now, 3 months later and many oceans apart, we are still a part of each other’s lives.
While we were on the bus to Jerusalem, I asked Rosa about her job in the army and learned that she was a spokesperson for Gaza. Without hesitation I replied, “Gaza?! You’re stationed near Gaza? Like you’re there all the time?” She smiled, then laughed and said, “It’s not that scary! Don’t you Americans know anything?” Right away I answered her, “No we don’t… we’re Americans…” So from that moment on, I decided I would no longer be the typical American who believed everything that was heard in the news, I was eager to learn more. I wanted to know everything. As a history major, I have always been interested in learning about the histories and cultures of different peoples from all over the world. Rosa taught me more about Israel in those 4 days than I had been taught about in my entire Jewish day school career. She shared all of her stories about the army and about growing up in Israel. Many of her stories were filled with excitement and happy endings, but for every story filled with laughter, there was a story filled with grief and unfortunate endings. And that’s when I realized the reality that is her life. This is the true reality for each and every individual living in Israel.
In response to what is currently happening, I make it a priority to speak with my friends in the IDF. Our Birthright Facebook group allows them to update us, as often as they can, and remind us to have faith. One of our friends, Naor, wrote, “Hello, after a period of freedom and pleasure. Again like all the IDF soldiers also I’m on the way! Keep this little place we have. Now I’m on the way! I can not say where, but I can say. I’m confused and i no heve mercy. I love you all and letter after I get back I will write to everyone. Keep in touch.” Another one of our friends Noa said, “hey guys! im in the armi now after night witheout sleeping, everything fine. my family in Ashkelon fine.. i hope.. and i want you to know iam relly proud and having fun that im taking part in all of that! miss you!”
As Americans there is so much that we take for granted. We need to put our busy lives on hold, for just a moment, and take a look at what is happening in the world, right now. I am reminded of the dedication and passion Israelis have for their state when I read their Facebook posts or when I look up at my corkboard in my college dorm room and see Rosa’s shoulder tag that she gave me. Hearing about what is happening in Israel has led me to search for a broader perspective on life. Living on the other side of the world, there is only so much that we can do. But every single service, whether it be raising awareness or praying to god for the safety of our people goes a long way. The young men and women of the IDF are not just soldiers; they are our brothers, our sisters, and our children. They are not just soldiers, these brave and selfless citizens are my friends. And they have impacted my life in a way that I never thought imaginable. It is important that we take a minute or two from our hectic lives, or maybe even a bit longer, to reflect, pray, and to put forth an effort to help our people and our homeland, Eretz Yisrael.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.