At age fifteen, I found myself on a plane with my family taking a fourteen-hour flight from JFK Airport into Ben Gurion Airport in Israel. After my freshman year of high school, no reward could have been greater than my parents allowing me to visit my aunt, uncle, and eight cousins in a religious Jewish community outside of Jerusalem. Aside from being enthusiastic about traveling, I was apprehensive about fitting into the restrictive orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Betar Illit, Israel.
It is easy for me to remember every detail of my trip, because I have kept a strict diary since I could write. I quickly checked through all of my diaries from 2009 until I found myself smiling while reading over my adventures from Israel that summer.
I sat first class next to a boy enlisting in the Israeli Army. He was eighteen, and we had great conversation the whole way there. He told me how he knew no one in Israel, but just being Jewish gave him the conviction he needed to serve for the Israeli army.
The first entree in my diary was a complaint. I wanted to rip off my long skirt and put on shorts just like other hip teens walking the streets of Tel Aviv. I so badly wished to mingle with the young crowd and, most importantly, I wanted to flirt with boys! Together, my family traveled to the Ein Gedi sea spa on the bus, which we took from the central bus station, bus number 486. The 75-minute ride exposed miles of magnificent mountains surrounding the Dead Sea. The cost was 100 shekels (Israeli currency) for admission to the spa and a ticket for the cafeteria. That day I ran into the salty waters of the Dead Sea after covering myself in mineral rich dead sea mud. This is an Israeli ritual said to cleanse, tighten and heal skin. I learned a valuable lesson about Dead Sea waters that day- Don’t open my eyes after taking a dunk!
Next, I put on shorts and escaped Betar to meet my friend Ari in Nahariya. He took me to the Tel Dan Nature Reserve. Here I saw waterfalls, plants and an old gate that Abraham walked through. On my next visit, I will not forget a sturdy pair of shoes for the hike through the mud. I also visited the “Messada of the North,” an old stonewall city. Within the city are a Miqvah (a ritual bath), a temple, an olive press and living quarters. The walk down the mountain to the city was much easier than the climb back up, where I fell and hurt myself on the rocks. Word of advice! Do not run up a rugged hill in sandals on a hot day.
Ari also showed me a breathtaking waterfall that poured out over the rocks into the freshwaters of Lake Kineret, also known as the Sea of the Galilee. I smiled from ear to ear as I stood under the cool water.
My love and devotion for Israel became prevalent to me on the plane-ride home. I felt my heart sinking as I left behind so many parts of me- my relatives, the Mediterranean waters, and a spiritual connection. If there is something Israel made me realize, it is that it is harder than you think to act like someone you are not. This summer I return to Israel, where I will live on my own terms.
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