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My Story: In A Land Far, Far Away

January 3, 2019 at 4:30 pm
by Andrew Skidmore 2018 Birthright Israel Alumnus
Andrew Skidmore in Northern Israel, 2018

Growing up, you’d hear so many stories in Hebrew or Sunday school about how amazing Israel is. But, it is only once you actually travel there does everything come together, and you feel the connection you have always wanted to feel. This is exactly what happened to me when I traveled to Israel in June 2018 with Birthright Israel.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty details, let me give a brief background about myself. My name is Andrew, I live in Maryland, and I was raised as a Reform Jew while attending Sunday school for over a decade. I graduated from UMBC in 2017 with a visual arts degree concentrated in cinematic arts. Now, at 23 years old, I am doing my best to set myself up for a lifetime of happiness and fulfillment. So, let’s talk Israel, shall we?

Panorama in Northern Israel, 2018

I love traveling. I mean, most people do, so that’s hardly anything special. I had known about Birthright Israel for a long time, and for whatever reason, I always put off signing up to attend the trip. It was around a year ago when a family member forwarded me an email, explaining that the window to apply to go on Birthright for the upcoming year was soon approaching.

I’ll admit, at first, I kind of ignored the email, but just as I was about to close my email tab, I stopped and thought to myself “Andrew, sign up for this trip, it’s free.” So, in a sense, a “screw it” attitude and a love for traveling is what drove me to attend Birthright Israel. Looking back, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Besides, I figured it was the perfect time to go. College was behind me, I don’t have kids or a pressing job… Why wait?

Let’s fast forward half a year or so.

I’m on an Amtrak train headed north from Baltimore to New York City. One day out from departure. I tried my best to contain my excitement, my thrill for adventure. After all, I knew what was right around the corner. I was so pumped to be in New York that I walked 2 miles with all my stuff through Central Park to the Upper East Side of Manhattan where I stayed the night at my friend’s apartment. It was good preparation for all the walking I’d eventually do in Israel.

The next day, I made the trek east to JFK Airport where I rendezvoused with my fellow Birthrighters. There were more people in my group than I thought! After going through the (very intriguing) Israeli security procedures, it was time to board the plane and ride off away from the sunset.

Nearly 6,000 miles later, an ocean away, countries between us, a little sleep, and some surprisingly enjoyable airplane food, we touched down at the Ben Gurion International Airport. It was finally go-time!

Andrew Skidmore's group at Ben Gurion Airport, 2018

Now, I could go through our day-to-day activities and outline the trip as a whole, but that would kind of ruin the fun of going on the trip for yourself. So, I’ll highlight some of the best experiences. Warning, spoilers ahead. Keep in mind, though, everyone’s trip is unique in their own way. You’re writing your own movie, so to speak, as you travel along.

Pinpointing exactly what my favorite part of the trip was is quite a challenge. It’s pretty ordinary to hear people say that the whole trip was their favorite part. Allow me to truly express my favorite aspect of the trip. My favorite part of the trip wasn’t a specific place or thing. It wasn’t the food nor any particular person. It was a feeling. It was a feeling of complete bliss that I would get during so many elements of the trip. The emotions I felt were unlike anything I had ever experienced. It’s hard to describe, really. Simply put, so many things blew my mind 1000x over and over.

It’s only been 6 months since the trip, but since then, I have had a lot of time to reflect on exactly what I did over there. There are so many pivotal takeaways from the trip. The comedic side of me thinks that the Israelis (specifically the IDF) don’t mess around, Israeli women are beautiful, and American food is put to shame. The serious side of me thinks that the biggest takeaway from the trip is that it doesn’t necessarily matter how Jewish you are, Israel welcomes everyone. For a place with such a rich history, to say the least, this is a big deal.

Andrew Skidmore's sunrise on Masada, 2018

Undoubtedly, my Birthright Israel trip will impact me for the rest of my life. The connection I now have with Israel is lifelong. It further enhanced the connection I have always had with Judaism. Plus, I made some great friendships and connections along the way. For never meeting anyone in my group prior to the trip, it felt like we were one big happy family. It’s a connection unlike any other. For a free trip, this connection is priceless.

For anyone out there that is unsure of traveling solo, I promise you by the end of the trip, you’ll feel like you’re leaving family behind. It’s rather sad, but it’s a bittersweet kind of feeling.

So, it doesn’t matter how Jewish you are or aren’t. It doesn’t matter if you never learned Hebrew or went to Sunday school. It doesn’t matter if you were never Bar or BatMitzvah’d. None of that matters. Here’s why… At the end of the day, there’s a piece of Judaism in each and every single one of us. It’s the glue that keeps us all together. Traveling to Israel is our birthright, pun intended, in every sense of the word.

So, to close…

My name is Andrew Skidmore. For 10 days, I toured Israel with a group of 50 strangers. I hiked mountains, toured cities, lived in a Kibbutz, ate amazing food, sang songs, swam in oceans, slept in the desert, prayed at the Western Wall, visited museums, stargazed, watched sunsets, made friends, and even had a couple of drinks. And guess what…? I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world, except for maybe some Shawarma.

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Andrew Skidmore in Northern Israel, 2018
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