This past semester I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad in Israel with my class from the American Hebrew Academy. We left immediately after Rosh Hashanah and came back a week before Thanksgiving. Prior to this trip, I had been to Israel one other time and it was only for two weeks. This time I lived there. I didn’t know what that would be like, because living in Israel is much different than just visiting. When we drove through Hod Hasharon, the town where Alexander Muss High School in Israel is located, it was exciting to see all the shops and restaurants I would visit over the next two months. The first time I went to the supermarket a man came up to us and started telling us about his life and his experiences. I had some of the best meals of my life there, especially in some of the places that you wouldn’t expect. We had go-to restaurants for any meal we wanted, there was one place we went for schnitzel, one for falafel, one for shwarma and so many more. We made friends with many of the people who worked in the stores because we were there so often.
While there, I learned about the history of Israel and the Jewish people from Abraham to the Holocaust. I had the opportunity to visit the places we would be learning about. Sometimes we would go on day-long trips, bring our notebooks and have class in some of the most surprising places. One time we had class on the beach, one time we went on a hike early in the morning and then were looking over the Golan Heights into the Galil. I originally believed Israel was a Jewish nation and that everywhere you looked there would be people with kippahs and everything was closed on Shabbat. After being there for so long I realized that I was wrong. It is much more than just a Jewish state. I had the opportunity to meet other people that live there. For example, I was able to meet with local Israeli-Arab teenagers and talk to them about what it was like to live in Israel and not be Jewish. We asked them questions about their lives and what it was like to live in Israel as Arabs. They also asked us about life in America and visiting Israel. After talking to them I realized that not everyone in Israel sees it as this amazing country and that was very eye-opening. It was fascinating to hear other perspectives about Israel.
My time in Israel was incredible and I can’t wait to go back. The experience of observing Yom Kippur and celebrating Simchat Torah in Jerusalem, hiking across the Galil on Yam le Yam and traveling from the northernmost border, south to Beersheva in the Negev gave me a full view of Israel. There is so much history and diversity in such a little country that it was not possible to see it all on my first trip as a tourist, but I have a much better perspective and appreciation after living there.