At only 16-years-old, I traveled 6,000 miles away from home in order to find my home. Not knowing what to expect, I boarded the plane for Israel. When I returned a week later, I had realized that I learned more in those seven days than I did all eight years of HebrewSchool.
At first, I was petrified traveling around the world by myself and being away from my family for the first time; however, I knew in my heart it was something I had to do. My burning desire to visit Israel began in middle school when I first learned about Jerusalem. I knew then that I did not just want to read about the ancient city, I wanted to experience it myself. My yearning continued after I hosted two Israeli exchange students in my home last summer and helped arrange the daily activities for 15 other Israeli teens during their stay in South Florida. The opportunity to reciprocate this good will came two months later when I was selected as one of ten students to represent the United States in the Akiva Leadership Program as a teen ambassador to Nesher, Israel. I had never been away from home, but my Jewish heritage and craving for tradition were strong; it was finally time to turn my dream into a reality. Israel was even more profound than I even expected. I was amazed at how beautiful and clean this historical country was. I stood, beside the Western Wall where 5,000 years earlier my ancestors once stood and I witnessed first-hand the Jewish customs that had been such a valued part of my growing up. I immersed myself in the Israeli communities by repairing and painting a dilapidated Ethiopian school building, volunteering to work with children at a Nesher preschool and participating in leadership activities to help teenagers in distressed family situations.
Even though I learned about my heritage, I learned even more about the lifestyles of an ordinary Israeli teenager. Most adolescents in the United States take for granted their freedom: freedom of speech and freedom to choose their own path after high school. Israeli teens take on the obligations of adulthood much earlier because they realize the responsibilities they have to their country and their people. By observing these 18-year- olds carrying U2 sub-machine guns to defend their country, I could feel the immense pride they shared for the peace process in Israel. I also learned a lot about myself on this pilgrimage to my homeland. I gained a sense of independence I never knew I had and discovered my innate ability to help others not just in my own small community but in other places around the world. The independence and maturity I gained are qualities I know will follow me as I enter college. I look forward to sharing my devotion with others as I embark on this next great experience in my life.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.