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A trip to Israel sparks healing and a bond between sisters

April 5, 2020 at 8:00 am
by Emily Maguire • Charlotte, NC 2019 Birthright Israel Alumna
Emily with her sister at the beach in Israel

My sister was the one who really wanted to go on this trip to Israel. I did not know very much about the Birthright Israel program or the country, I was apprehensive to go. We lost our dad in 2012 and I became less spiritual and struggled to deal with my grief. I felt I had to be the rock of the family and when my sister suggested that we take this journey together, I agreed this would be something good to do as siblings.

We chose a 7-day Birthright Israel program because we could not get away from our jobs for very long.

A few days into our trip, it was a beautiful and sunny, yet chilly day in Jerusalem. That morning our guide gave us little pieces of paper to write down words to place in the cracks of the Western Wall. Still dealing with the grief of losing my father, this gave me a chance to process. I was thinking about what to write as my sister and I walked down to the Western Wall. We stood together – I put one hand on the stones, she put one hand on my back and the other on the stones. I asked for healing.

Emily and her sister with their Birthright Israel group

The very next night our group spent the evening in the desert. As a group, we walked to an open area blanketed by stars and freezing cold air. I wrapped myself in a sleeping bag to stay warm. Then the staff took each person one-by-one to sit away from others to reflect. After a while, we returned to the group and sat in a big circle to share. Then, we each took turns sharing, one person told his story of hardship that resonated with me. His sharing prompted me to verbalize to the group how I had asked for healing at the Western Wall.

My sister was seated across the circle and I wasn’t able to see her. When it came to her turn to share, she said, “Emily, I was so glad to hear you say that, because, at the Western Wall, I prayed for you.”

I felt like the healing was finally happening with what seemed like a group of strangers in the desert. 

Afterward, several other people came up to me; we hugged and talked. One of the Mifgash (Israeli participants) shared how she was feeling depressed and lonely being away from her family while serving in the army. I felt incredibly bonded with others in the group after this.

Birthright Israel was the best thing I have ever done in my life. Not only did it allow me to heal together with my sister, but it also helped me to grow as a person socially. Before Birthright Israel, I might not have started talking with other people I don’t know, but now I’m really open to meeting others. The connections I made on this trip to Israel are lifelong. When I returned to Charlotte, NC, I visited people from the group and we are talking about getting together soon. And our group chat is still going strong!

Birthright Israel helped me to reconnect with my Judaism and get a better feel for why I love it so much. Because of my trip to Israel, I returned with a love for Israel and I know that I will go back again. I cannot thank Birthright Israel Foundation enough for caring to make this experience possible for me. I know without Birthright Israel, I would not have gone otherwise. Thank you!

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Emily with her sister at the beach in Israel