Israeli men walking in Tzfat. (Photo by Maddie Coughman)
Hike at Banyas Falls. (Photo by Maddie Coughman)
Tiberius leisure night. (Photo by Mia Davis)
Israeli mother and child. (Photo by Maddie Coughman)
Shot of The Dome of the Rock in the Old City of Jerusalem. (Photo by Mia Davis)
Women immersed in prayer at Wailing Wall. (Photo by Mia Davis)
Traditional Jewish dancing at the Wailing Wall. (Photo by Maddie Coughman)
Bustling activity in the Mechane Yehudah marketplace. (Photo by Maddie Coughman)
Colorful candies in the marketplace. (Photo by Mia Davis)
Sweet rolls in the Mechane Yehudah marketplace. (Photo by Mia Davis)
Southern Wall Excavations –– built during King Herod's reign in 37 B.C. (Photo by Mia Davis)
Shot of my tourguide, Binyamin. (Photo by Mia Davis)
Sunrise atop Mount Masada. (Photo by Mia Davis)
View from atop Masada. (Photo by Mia Davis)
Ruins of a thermal bath at Masada. (Photo by Mia Davis)
View of Tel Aviv. (Photo by Maddie Coughman)
The author floating in the Dead Sea. (Photo by Maddie Coughman)
Sunflowers on The Salad Trail. (Photo by Maddie Coughman)
My view on top of camel. (Photo by Mia Davis)
Picture this: a group of 30 college students shipped off to Israel for an all expense paid trip. Ten days in the Holy Land — filled with daily excursions and nightly activities. A medley of emotions pumped through my veins as I sat through the 13-hour plane ride to Tel Aviv — excitement, nervousness and curiosity.
Birthright, an organization which funds free trips for Jewish young adults, provides an itinerary that balances both informational tourist attractions with light-hearted activities. The institution aims to spark a connection with Israel and Judaism among youths.
Thus, our activities ranged from visiting Yad Vashem (Holocaust Remembrance Center) to enjoying the Tel Aviv nightlife. Ironically, despite the trip’s jam-packed agenda, specific experiences aren’t what stand out in my memory. Rather, a specific emotion: simplicity.
I remember the feeling of walking back to our hostel after the Shabbat evening service at the Wailing Wall. In Orthodox Judaism, driving a vehicle is a form of labor, which is prohibited on this holy day. The stores were closed; no cars drove on the street. Though many felt hesitant about the long journey back, the walk created a bonding experience. My group talked with each other and the accompanying Israelis during the two hours.
No one felt compelled to retreat to normal millennial stimulants like Facebook or texting — instead, each other’s presence and conversation was enough. Here I was, in a country thousands of miles away from home — a country constantly grappling with the complexities of the Middle East and exploding with various cultures and people. And yet, an undeniable air of simplicity and solidarity engulfed my presence and opened my senses to the world around me.
This simplicity presented itself in a variety of forms: from floating in the Dead Sea (due to the high salt content, you really are floating) and staring up at the sky in pure weightlessness… to walking through the markets, listening to the vendors eagerly proclaim their products just as their ancestors did before them.
On the more serious side of things, I recall walking through Mount Herzl — Israel’s National Cemetery, and hearing the Israelis (who accompanied us on the trip and were our age) speak about their loved ones who lost their lives while serving in the army. As they recounted the memories of their friends, I gained a sense of their deep maturity and appreciation for life.
Again, as complicated as these issues are, the Israelis showed me that at the end of the day, life is as simple as caring for one another and treating each day as if you knew it was your last. While this concept may seem extreme in America, living in this is manner is realistic dogma for the Israeli people.
When people ask me about the trip to Israel, I can’t quite put it into one word or sentence. I feel the easiest answer is, “It was a great experience, I saw so many neat things.” Yet, the trip was much more than seeing a few cool attractions. It allowed me to experience the world with a different, even if only temporary, mindset. It opened my eyes to a newfound simplicity — a simplicity I will continue to search for throughout my life.