A Truly Life Changing Experience
By Forrest Butensky ’17
Where can I start? If I really wanted to lay out my entire Birthright experience, you’d be reading for hours. I’ll keep it simple and pick out my most memorable experiences from the trip. Just a heads up: if you’re thinking about going on Birthright or are hesitant about going on the trip, book your spot now. I promise you, you will not regret it.
While most people who go on Birthright sign up with a friend, I decided to sign up alone. My family was concerned at first, but I continued to reassure them that I would get out of my comfort zone and make new friends. It also helped that the majority of the other participants were from Rutgers. Right from the start we all began bonding. Whether it was waiting in the airport dreading the long flight, stuffing ourselves with the endless falafel and shawarma, or taking in the gorgeous Israeli sights, we all began to have a greater sense of who everybody else was and why we wanted to go on this trip. We all got through the long days and hours upon hours of bus rides together, and our bond got even stronger. It’s truly incredible how you can take 46 strangers, and after 10 days become a family.
Probably the most incredible part about the trip was being able to travel with our Israeli peers. While most groups only spend 5 days with their Israeli peers, we had the special privilege of spending our entire trip with them. While we pack our bags at 18 to start college, they pack theirs to honorably serve their country in the Israeli Defense Force. My most memorable moment with our Israeli peers was on Mt. Herzl, the Israeli national cemetery. We held a small ceremony for those who perished in conflict while serving for the IDF. As I stood silent to honor the fallen soldiers, I looked over and saw our Israeli peers visibly upset. It was at this moment that I had a realization and put myself in their places. The Israelis, and especially those serving in the IDF, are constantly under threat from enemy forces and the possibility of losing loved ones is very real. But at the same time, it showed me the level of maturity and pride that the Israelis have for their country, and the lengths they would go to protect their homeland. Their love for their country is unquestionable.
My trip to Israel has reinforced my belief and pride for Judaism and Israel. I definitely have a greater appreciation and understanding of the challenges that Jews have faced in recent years and currently face, and what Israel symbolizes to Jews around the world. From the landscapes, the people, the food, and the culture, Israel is a home that remembers its past, but embraces change and hope for the future. This trip has truly been a life-changing experience.