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Birthright Was My 14th Trip To Israel, Yet It Was My First

June 25, 2019 at 6:10 am
by Emily Nassir Birthright Israel Alumna '19
Emily with her Birthright Israel group

Israel has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. My father was born in Tehran, Iran, and moved to Israel with his family during the Revolution of 1978. He would later immigrate to the United States, alone and as a teenager, while his family remained in the Middle East. Growing up with half of my family halfway across the world led to many trips to see them. Our visits consisted of eating at our favorite restaurants, going to water parks, relaxing on the beach, visiting the Western Wall (because, how couldn’t you?), and spending time together in the comfort of my family’s home. The size of my family made trips to Israel expensive and complicated, so visits were simple and lacked sightseeing. Over time, Israel became my second home, and every visit left me yearning for more.

Learning about the existence of Birthright Israel was exhilarating and made me realize I would finally have the opportunity to connect with the land, history, and spirit of Israel, and from March 12-20, 2019, that’s precisely what I did.

Most of the participants on my trip were experiencing Israel for the first time and were in disbelief when they found out I had been to Israel many times before. I was definitely surprised that I was allowed to be on this trip, but I think it is very important for people in my situation to be allowed to attend. Having been to Israel, for now, the 14th time, I was excited that the trip would be filled with a lot of first experiences for me. Almost the entire itinerary, with the exception of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, was new to me. I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to experience everything I did.

Emily's group hiking Masada
Emily’s Birthright Israel group hiking Masada

From the peaks of Mt. Meron and Masada to the depths of the Dead Sea, connecting with the land of Israel was an awe-inspiring experience.  At the top of Mt. Meron, we were able to overlook the borders of Lebanon and Syria. Hiking up Masada at 5 A.M. was not easy, but seeing the sunrise over the desert was magical. Covering ourselves in mud from the ground and submerging ourselves into the saltiest water that could exist in the Dead Sea felt rejuvenating and was truly fun. Seeing how the land changes visually from city to city was also amazing to me. Each area is beautiful in its own way and has its own unique ways for you to connect with it. I took a rock from each area we visited and now with a full jar of stones on my desk, I feel that I was able to take some of the land back with me.

Emily at Caesarea
Emily’s Birthright Israel group in Caesarea

I connected with the history of Israel in almost every place, but specifically at Caesarea, Yad Vashem, and Mt. Herzl. We learned a lot about the history of the Roman Empire in Israel while in Caesarea and came to understand how the Jewish people in the North struggled with the land over time. Yad Vashem was the pinnacle of my historical learning and it was not easy to visualize the horrors of the Holocaust, but it was vastly important nonetheless. At Mt. Herzl we learned about fallen soldiers and how their sacrifices helped Israel stay strong in some of its toughest times.

“To see the coexistence of different groups who used religion beside each other instead of against each other is what Israel is all about to me.”

A photo from Jerusalem during Emily's Birthright Israel trip
A photo from Jerusalem during Emily’s Birthright Israel trip

The spirit of Israel was easy to connect to because it’s everywhere. As we stood on the top of a building overlooking the quarters of Jerusalem, we were able to hear the call to prayer from multiple quarters at the same time. It was loud and overwhelming, but the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. To see the coexistence of different groups who used religion beside each other instead of against each other is what Israel is all about to me. Israel’s spirit is embodied in experiences like seeing a family in Tzfat holding a Bar Mitzvah, dancing and singing as they make their way up the street, and random bystanders jumping in to celebrate with them.

“Birthright Israel gave me everything I spent my life wishing for and more.”

Finally, through Birthright Israel I was able to connect with myself. I realized how important it is to experience different cultures. I learned in our tour of the Mikvah how vital it is to step away from life’s stresses when you need to and take care of yourself. My Birthright trip gave me many things like exposure to new sights, new friends that I consider my mishpacha, memories, pictures that I will cherish forever, a new understanding of myself, and so much more. Birthright Israel gave me everything I spent my life wishing for and more.

“But, because of this gift, this incredibly generous and beautiful gift that is the ability to go on Birthright, I finally visited the Land of Israel for the first time.”

So yes, this is the 14th time that I have taken a 10 hour flight to Ben-Gurion Airport and drank chocolate milk in a bag while humming Israeli music with people I care about besides me. But, because of this gift, this incredibly generous and beautiful gift that is the ability to go on Birthright, I finally visited the Land of Israel for the first time.

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Emily with her Birthright Israel group
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