The tour guide looked strangely familiar. The mystery to why that was didn’t last long, because soon he was revealing he was my grandmother’s cousin. The last time they had seen each other was when they were kids. I felt like I was on Candid Camera. How, in all of Israel, did we end up with a family member as our tour guide? But sometimes fate intervenes, and you just can’t question it.
With that shocking revelation, we boarded the bus for the bar mitzvah tour of Israel my family and I were going on. The actual bar mitzvah part of the tour was for my brother, since my bat mitzvah had happened three years previously, but that didn’t make me any less excited. I was going to be seeing the land of my ancestors, where, long ago, my religion was born. It was awe inspiring.
The tour started out in Jerusalem. It was a beautiful city, filled with the holy places of three religions. They all merged seamlessly on the old streets of the city. The first evening, we went to a vantage point that overlooked all of Jerusalem, and it seemed to shine and sparkle in the fading light like a city of stars.
We stayed in Jerusalem for five days, taking in all the sights of the ancient city, and then we headed off to explore the rest of Israel. We saw Roman ruins on a steaming hot beach, went through a golden mountain range and looked across the border to Syria, rode camels in a very tourist friendly setting, and drank tea in a dark Bedouin tent while we heard their stories.
We finally made it to one of the parts of trip I was looking forward to the most on the eighth day: the Dead Sea. The famously salty sea lived up to its reputation, and I felt eerily like I was weightless as I drifted with no effort in the murky water. The columns of salt that looked like pure white termite mounds only added to the strange atmosphere. We spent the whole afternoon there, drifting in the water and laying on the salt crusted beach, putting on the mud that was wonderful for your skin.
Also near the Dead Sea was Masada, where centuries ago the Jewish people had refused to surrender to the Romans, committing suicide instead of giving up their faith. It was also where the bar mitzvah ceremony for the group would take place. Early in the morning, when the temperature was already brushing the hundreds in the boiling desert, we took our place at the top of the tall mountain. One by one the kids said their parts of the service. Finally, it was my brother’s turn and my family and I all watched with smiles on our faces while he officially became an adult in Judaism. When the service was done, we took a tour of Masada and learned more about the Jews’ stand against the Romans. Even if it ended in tragedy, I was proud of my ancestors. They stood up for what they believed in and would not back down.
The rest of the tour was a blur of bus rides and museums, cities and countryside, desert and newly planted trees. And then, before I knew it, it was our last day and we were saying a tearful goodbye to our cousin with promises to write. I boarded the plane back to the United States in love with the country of my ancestors and the hope to come back in the future.
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.