The Israel In Me

My whole life I’ve had a thirst for adventure. I admire fictional characters like Indiana Jones for their freedom to travel the globe, creating legends and fighting the paranormal in uncharted lands. I chose to study archaeology so I could live the fictional dream of exploring vast deserts and forest. Climbing through jungles and hiking along rivers. Witnessing long-lost ancient civilizations for the first time since their inception. But I’ve never stepped foot outside of my country before. I’ve never bought a passport, nor have I ever flown somewhere without one of my parents. Even after four years of being at the University of Central Florida, living in the same apartment, I’ve never been able to call anywhere but the house I was raised in “my home.” Yet all of that changed the moment I stepped off of the plane in Israel.

I was afraid I had set my expectations too high. I used to believe that all places are the same. That it would feel like any other place. But I was wrong. There is something in the land itself. Israel doesn’t feel like a foreign country. The people don’t feel like foreign people. And the land doesn’t feel like foreign land. I don’t think Israel is a location. It’s not a latitude and longitude. It didn’t matter where I was the day before I arrived. Israel is a soul. It’s a feeling and a beating heart. A life source. A moving, pulsating, life giving, breathing soul that exists within
every Jew. For the first time in my life, I called a place I’ve never been before, “home.”

There are not 40 kids on the trip. There is just one. Because by the end of 10 days there are no divisions. No judgments. The stranger whose name you never knew has become your brother, along with the soldier you would never meet. Your face is reflected in the people whose life is so different as they fight to defend our homeland. Yet the moment you put your arm around them they cease to be anything but a part of you. We were in Israel, but more importantly, we were and continue to be with the Nation of Israel.

They say every day is like a year on Birthright Israel. The friendships I’ve forged are stronger than steel. They do not exist as a memory, but as potential energy, looking to be nurtured and grow in the future. On the other side of the world eight soldiers I now call my family, remember my name and love me the same way I love them. I would never have met them had it not been for Birthright Israel: Mayanot. I owe so much to them and the UCF Chabad for organizing the trip. I’ve gained an unmistakable perspective which has stirred within me a brooding passion. The exact ingredient missing from my life.

There are literally millions of things to take back from Israel: photos, souvenirs, stones from the Dead Sea, necklaces, books, food. You could get deep and take passion and insight, which the Rabbi served on request. You could take love, which some found within days and kept. You could even take dreams, which I took by the handful. But the greatest thing about Birthright Israel is not what you can take. It’s what you can give. And as so many warriors, soldiers, and civilians throughout our history have given their life for Israel, upon being there it’s easy to see why they were willing to give so much. Because I am not here in Israel. Israel is here in me!

To read more about Joshua Zimmerman's experience at the Mayanot Men's Learning Program Click here. 

Written By: Joshua Zimmerman 
Mayanot Alumnus, 2014
Via: Chabad at UCF