The next day we traveled to the holiest of holy lands – Jerusalem. A great thing about traveling with Jews (besides how little they complain) was I didn’t have to be embarrassed about my pathetic knowledge of Christianity. Israel just so happens to be a holy land for Christians (The big guy’s decision to put Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all in the same city is obviously just a practical joke that went terribly wrong). Anyways, as we traveled through Israel and into Jerusalem our tour guide kept us informed of some important places for Christians – Jesus was said to have walked on water on the Sea of Gallilee, we passed through the field where some giant fight is supposed to happen before Jesus returns to Jerusalem, etc. All of this was extremely confusing for us Jews and the bus was filled with fantastic questions: Why did Jesus walk on water? Were there 12 or 14 stages of the cross? Jesus was a jew?! What’s a ‘second coming’? (That’s what she said).
Before we made it to Jerusalem, we met up with eight soldiers that traveled with us for the next five days. The soldiers weren’t there for security precautions – We had a security guard/medic for that (His biggest responsibility was tied between spoon feeding me peanut butter in Tzvat to cure my hangover or giving my friend a bandaid for stubbing her toe). Birthright-Taglit partners each trip with soldiers as a way for us to understand what Israelis our age are like. It’s also probably a ploy to accomplish the other goal of the trip – baby making.
We (mainly the girls) were all extremely excited to meet our new Israelis friends. Israeli soldiers take “hot men in uniform” to a whole new level. Our group of soldiers consisted of three men and five women. The Israeli Defense Force is a conscript army – men join for three years when they reach 18 and women join for two.
I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when meeting the soldiers. I heard from friends who had already done Birthright that their soldiers were amazing, but I couldn’t imagine being able to relate to them. Their reality growing up is knowing they will join the army in a country that has never known peace. My reality growing up was knowing that when I didn’t get into UCLA I could just go to the next best university and be happy there.
Despite these initial fears, the soldiers were incredible. It was so easy to get along with them. Of course there were things we couldn’t relate on but it was amazing seeing how fast everyone bonded on the trip. When we asked them about what they thought of American college students, they said they thought of red cups and big parties – pretty accurate.
We were all too busy talking and getting to know each other to pay much attention to the long drive from the north to Jerusalem. Eventually the bus just stopped and we realized we had made it. The next scene was the most incredible, spiritual, moving experience. We all jumped out of the bus and stood on the Mount of Olives which gives an incredible panoramic view of Jerusalem. We all started singing and dancing as this man played on bongo type drums. (Seriously, where the fuck did that guy come from???). We drank wine and sang the shehecheyanu (a prayer for special occasions). Tears were streaming down everyone’s faces as we tried to comprehend the magic of the moment. We were in Jerusalem.