Soldiers, Friendships, and Family
By Lee Mamolen, Class of 2016
Lee traveled to Israel in January 2015 on Birthright with Rutgers Hillel, and while on this life-changing trip, he took some time to write down his thoughts, and he’s shared them with us here:
Today, we started our day atop Mt. Herzl, the national cemetery of the State of Israel dedicated to the lives that were lost who fought for the land and spirit of Israel. Before arriving at the cemetery, I had very little idea of the importance and significance this place has in the hearts of every Israeli and Jew. This day was especially moving because we had visited the cemetery with our new Israeli soldier friends, some of whom had some friends who had passed away in the line of duty protecting the State of Israel. The soldiers’ presence certainly made this experience a more personal one because of the relationship we had built with the soldiers over the last couple of days. Hearing and seeing their emotions and stories while visiting this cemetery moved me tremendously. It was at this point that I had started to realize how much our lives really overlap with each other. These soldiers are essentially the same age as many of us and share many qualities of our personalities, hobbies, interests, and achievable goals in our lives. It hit home to me because while our lives now may be different, we all come from the same solid background and foundation of family and community – even half way across the world. The ceremony concluding our time at Mt. Herzl brought me to tears – happy tears of hope, happiness, and peace for the future of Israel and its people.
Sadly, it was later today in Tel Aviv that it was time to say goodbye to our Israeli soldiers who had become a part of our family over the course of this trip. It was in this moment that I was truly amazed at how you can take a group of strangers and over the period of 5 days – not even a full week – how closely connected many of us felt towards each other and the soldiers. It is probably one of the most, if not the most, beautiful experiences I have been lucky enough to be a part of. The relationships and friendships we have made in our group, both with our American peers and with the Israeli soldiers, are strong bonds that can never be broken. I know that I personally felt a strong connection with the soldiers; however, it was not until we said goodbye to them that I realized the true significance and importance of having them on our trip. Yes, friendships were made, laughs were had, and stories were shared, but most importantly, new family members came to life. I hope to keep in contact with the 8 soldiers I met while here in Israel. I’ve said it before and I will say it again – I am forever grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime experience and everything that I have gained – both emotionally and spiritually. One thing I know for sure – I am coming home to America a more educated human being with a stronger love and appreciation for my culture, Judaism, the State of Israel, and most of all, with one big extended family full of loving, caring, and beautiful people inside and out!
Registration opens today for the new and IMPROVED Rutgers Hillel Taglit Birthright Israel trip! What makes our trip new and improved? Most students say that their favorite part of the trip is getting to meet Israelis, specifically the soldiers that join the trip. To make our trip even better we will have the soldiers for all ten days, while other trips only have them for five days.
Starting Monday February 2nd and Tuesday February 3rd, sign up at www.rutgershillel.org/birthright