This past summer I spent a month in Israel with a Jewish tour group, and over that period of time I set some personal records. To list a few, there was longest time spent without sending a text message, most sweating done over the course of a day, and let’s not forget my first (and hopefully last) experience nature-peeing. I discovered that in Israel the iced coffee is better, the falafel is better, and there’s a regrettable absence of good Mexican food. To put it simply, from my 18-year-old cousin decked out in her olive green army uniform to the mall that closed early for Shabbat, it didn’t take me long to realize that Israel is a pretty significant departure from life as I know it in New York City.
â–º Finalist 2012 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
One part of the trip that I remember particularly vividly was “Desert Experience”, which, appropriately enough, consisted of spending roughly 24 hours in the Negev Desert. We hiked through the morning, and spent the rest of the day setting up camp and making dinner. As soon as it got dark, our tour guide led us away from our makeshift campsite, and one-by-one separated out every person from the group until everyone was lying in the night, completely alone.
As tempted as I am to romanticize what followed, I have to admit, the first thoughts that ran through my mind were something along the lines of “What’s going to happen to my summer boyfriend and I after the trip? When can I shower? I would kill for some chocolate”. But as it turns out, the mind of a teenage girl can only hold so much silly chatter, and eventually it all sort of quiets down. My eyes adjusted to the darkness, I wiggled around until I was lying on the least amount of rocks as possible, and at some point I had the typical urban realization of “Oh, so that’s what stars look like”. I stared into the night and waited for my grand revelation to come, the masterpiece that countless novels had taught me was no doubt inevitable given such circumstances. This heightened expectancy lasted for about a minute, was followed by some disappointment, and culminated with a feeling of profound loneliness. This wasn’t the way this scene was supposed to play out. I was uncomfortable; physically, mentally, spiritually. I looked at the stars and saw, well, stars.
Eventually the group was reunited, and after some s’mores we laid out our sleeping bags in the sand. As everyone was drifting off to sleep, I nudged my best friend Anna: “What did you do while you were alone before?” I whispered, still concerned about my lack of divine inspiration. “Oh, I took I nap,” she replied groggily, before turning over and going back to sleep.
Duly validated, I decided that it was possible that my expectations of forging such a glorious connection with my ancestors/history/the universe were ever-so-slightly melodramatic. As I fell asleep next to my best friend, I was satisfied knowing that perhaps I had no monumental relationship with all of mankind, but at least I shared something with the girl sleeping next to me. When I look up at the stars, I see stars, and that’s just fine by me.
**This adventure was a part of USY's Eastern Europe/Israel Pilgrimage. More information can be found here
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