Imagine a country that is not only holy to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but is also in the middle of a war zone.
Israel is at the crossroads of religion, culture, customs, war, and tradition. When I arrived in Israel in December 2014, it was only months after the country’s most recent conflict in the summer before, instilling a stirring of anxiety within me.
The fear for my safety suddenly melted into a less rational and more pleasant fear that my 10-day trip wouldn’t be enough for me to see and experience everything that I had been excitedly waiting for. On my trip, I found a desire to explore not only more of my Jewish culture and heritage, but also a love of travel and experiences outside of my comfort zone.
We spent 10 days traveling up and down this country that is smaller than New Jersey, coming in close contact at times with countries such as Syria and Jordan, whose borders were only miles away. Hours were spent in outdoor markets, eating our way through cities, walking the same paths that prophets and world leaders had taken before, and seeing Israel through different eyes.
From 5am hikes up huge mountains that once stood as forts, to swimming in the lowest place on Earth, the Dead Sea, Israel offered a variety of different experiences all wrapped up in one country. More than anything though, going to Israel taught me to be proud of my heritage.
Going from a community with a large Jewish population to a large university of 35,000 incredibly diverse people, it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of college life and lose sight of how important you really are.
For me, I was able to understand the concept of “world citizen” in this trip because going to Israel and seeing the culture that I love so much in person really changed my perspective on how I choose to live my life.
We had seven Israeli soldiers join our trip halfway through. Service in the army is mandatory for 18 year olds with men serving three years and women serving two at least. That was a turning point for me in the trip because it really showed me the distinctions of the ways that 18 year olds in Israel lived vs. my life as an 18 year old in the state.
The stark contrasts in our lives didn’t take away from how similar we realized we all were. They listened to the same music, watched the same shows, and wanted the same things for their future as I did. I had never thought about these soldiers as more than just people who were thousands of miles away, fighting for a country that I loved.
Even months later we were able to reconnect with some of these people when they came and visited Athens. This time, we were able to show them our side of being college students. Keeping those connections really brought this trip full circle. Those 10 days brought me much closer with my religion, my community, and who I want to become.
Deep down, I truly believe it’s the cross cultural exchanges that have the most amazing impact on changing a person no matter where they go.
Maital is also part of a phenomenal organization all AIESEC. In conjunction with our partnership with their organization, please see their blog here: