People proved to be highlight of Hillel trip

BY YOSEPH KRAM

Upon being asked to write about my trip to Israel, I came to an astonishing conclusion: I don’t remember anything.

Now before you jump to any conclusions, understand that I was jetlagged for most of the trip and therefore completely in a fuzzy haze (my bizarre and irregular sleeping schedule became a big group joke by the end of the trip).

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I remember having lots of fun and learning more in ten days than ever before, but I couldn’t bring up specific events that I thought would be really relevant to the article.

Actually, I’ve read way too many articles about birthright that deal primarily with the sightseeing and tourism.

When I look back on the trip, it’s not Masada, the Kotel, or Yad Vashem that really stay in my memory — that’s what pictures are for. Don’t get me wrong: those places often change peoples’ lives.

What changed me, however, were the people.

In our group, there were students from Washington University, Saint Louis University, and Tulane, plus eight Israeli soldiers.

I’m very proud to say that my Facebook network now extends all over the world.

When I saw the soldiers for the first time, the first thing that stood out was that they looked exactly like the Jewish people in America.

I always had the misconception that Israeli Jews would look somehow darker and more foreign, and some do. But when I walked down the street, I just felt like I was back in my synagogue in Southern California. I saw that these were my people; my grandparents’ neighbors in Poland easily could have been living in any of those homes.

The next misconception that cleared up came when I sat next to one of the soldiers on the bus. I made a remark that she must have been very religious to live in the home of Judaism. Apparently not.

It turns out that Israeli Jews are highly polarized between religious and secular. I never really understood that Judaism was more than a religion — it seemed anyone could be Jewish if they wanted. In Israel, Jews have no problem proclaiming their Judaism while completely lacking faith in the existence of G-d. Keeping kosher in Israel is not a religious practice but a tradition. By the way, it happens to be that refraining from eating pork and combining meat and dairy does not restrict deliciousness in any way.

I completely expected to have a deep religious experience in Israel, but it never came. What did come was my desire to maintain my Jewish identity no matter what. I’ve since looked back to Israel with hope to return. If I can make it happen, I will. Birthright is more than a free vacation — I guarantee that it will force you to ask yourself where you and Judaism stand.

I can’t describe the feeling driving into Jerusalem the first time listening to Matisyahu, but let me put it this way: leaving home for college didn’t happen in August on a four-hour flight, but in January on a twelve- hour flight just when I had adjusted to the jetlag. Darn.

Yoseph Kram, from Palos Verdes, Calif., is a freshman studying mathematics and biology at Washington University in St. Louis, where he has been involved with St. Louis Hillel.

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