Israel: A Home Like No Other
By Galina Eilyuk, Class of 2016
Growing up in a Modern Orthodox community, I was constantly exposed to Judaism, religion, Israel, etc. As I grew up, I fled away from my roots and decided I wanted to be a part of a more secular world; I lost faith in what I had always known. I had the opportunity to attend a gap year seminary program. However, when it came down to it, I refused to go, thinking that Israel would make me flip out religiously. That was surely not something I was looking for. I wanted to experience Israel in a different light.
Coming to Rutgers and joining Hillel was the most positive religious thing I have done in quite some time. The entire Hillel community at Rutgers is very diverse, from Orthodox to Reform. Everyone feels at home and welcome regardless of their background.
When I found out that Birthright registration was open, I jumped at the opportunity to sign up. I was anxious for weeks until I found out I was accepted and would be heading to Israel in just a few short months. My expectations involved meeting new people, exploring Israel and learning new things. Little did I know I would soon wish to call Israel my home.
Specifying one experience from our trip is a difficult task; every activity our group was involved in was life changing. We started off on the Salad Trail and headed to the Negev Desert. I am not an outside person, but the night we spent in the Negev was my first realization of my love for Israel. I automatically fell in love with the culture, the nature, the way of life; it all appealed to me.
The next course of action was to pick up our Israeli soldiers and again, my expectations of that experience were definitely the opposite of what had actually happened. Each of the Israeli soldiers traveling with us impacted me in a certain way. I bonded with them in such a short amount of time and by the time they had to depart, I felt an emptiness inside. One Israeli in particular, Emanuel, changed my entire insight about Israel, the people, and the culture. To this day, weeks after the trip, we speak every day. He is one of the reasons I am in love with Israel.
Another major part of my trip was the food. No one ever needed to know what I wanted to eat. My answer was always “HUMMUS”! The food in Israel was the best food I have had in my life. From the coffee and fruit to the shawarma and hummus, I enjoyed everything. Now that I am back in America I am always complaining about the lack of perfect hummus.
Leading back to the nature aspect, our trip included many hikes and outdoor experiences. Before this trip, I would have never agreed to hiking up a giant mountain or sleeping in the desert. From kayaking to climbing Masada, we experienced the nature of Israel. I was convinced that I belonged outside. That is something huge for me, considering my fear of bugs. Everyone on the trip knew me by the fact that I would scream at a tiny bug.
Visiting Yad Vashem along with the other historical and memorial sites impacted me in a way my previous learning experiences were not able to. I realized that Israel is a place that wants peace and gives back to those who give to them. The country and its people have such respect for those who fought in the army or who lost their lives in war. Being surrounded by such respect impacted me and gave a sense of kadushah (holiness).
The most impactful experience I had in Israel was the Kotel (Western Wall). I had learned about the Kotel growing up, I had seen and drawn pictures, I had known about its beauty; I didn’t know how it would impact me. Our group had been walking through security, getting closer to where Hashem (God) used to grace the Jews with His Holy presence. I felt something warm inside me and I knew tears were on their way. I walked up to the wall and stuck my notes and tzedakah (charity) in. It was not until I touched the wall that I experienced a life changing moment. My hands shaking, I grazed the wall and my heart and soul poured out. From that moment I knew Israel was my home.
This Birthright trip was the most impactful experience of my life. The sites, activities, and places our group went affected me in such a way that I fell in love with the country on day 1. However, the people I got to share this experience with have also changed my life. Within 10 days I made so many new friends. Having experienced Israel together, we all bonded and united. Our tour guides made an impression on us as well. They educated us while still showing us a good time.
This experience will forever stay with me. In fact, this experience moved me so much that I am currently planning a trip back in December and I have decided to register for a short volunteer program in the IDF. My love for Israel is not something anyone can comprehend. The individual experience I felt and went through has truly been a beautiful one. I want to thank everyone on the trip for changing my life. And to Israel, you will forever be my home.
Through the Rutgers Hillel Center for Israel Engagement, students strengthen their connections to Israel and the Jewish people. After they return from a transformational Birthright experience, students continue to explore their love for Israel. The Rutgers Hillel Center for Israel Engagement exposes students to positive messages about Israel to help them develop stronger Jewish connections to our homeland.
Please support Rutgers Hillel as we create the next generation of Jewish leaders and change the conversation about Israel on campus.
Want to experience Israel for yourself? Registration for the next Taglit-Birthright Israel: Hillel – Rutgers University Trip (over winter break 2014-2015) opens on September 9, 2014 at 10 am ET. Previous applicants can begin registering on September 8, 2014 at 12 pm ET. To register, visit www.freeisraeltrip.org and list your school as “Rutgers” on the application.