A headline reads “Lebanon Warns of Violating Ceasefire.” The United States has plenty of violent crimes but the majority of us aren’t affected. The people of the Middle East have lived with centuries of turmoil but there is no time put aside to think, Wow, what is going on here? This must stop. The numbers keep multiplying with Israeli soldiers wounded and killed along with innocent Lebanese. These are real people who are making huge sacrifices.
Last summer, I traveled to Israel for a month with a tour, an experience which enhanced and enriched my awareness. Both before and after, there were many questions and speculations as to why I would want to travel to a place that seems so vulnerable. The answer was simple: I wanted to be immersed in Israeli culture and get to know my ancestry.
During my second week, Israeli soldiers were kidnapped and in the third week, missiles landed on Israeli territory, putting the northern region at risk. At that point my group was in southern Israel but an eerie realization came over me as I watched the news: just days earlier, I had visited the places that were hit along the Golan Heights.
It is common to see Israeli soldiers in public places, and two armed guards traveled with our group throughout our stay in Israel. This is considered routine even when there is not a war going on. Not once was I concerned for my safety.
Tourists are welcomed to Israel with open arms. The Israelis want visitors to take their culture back to their own countries and encourage others to experience the richness of a very sacred and historic land. In most other countries, tourists are looked down upon, but it is a mitzvah, or good deed, to travel to the holy land of Israel.
Toward the end of my visit, I had the opportunity to train with the Israeli army for four days in a simulated program called Gadna, a strenuous boot camp. Looking back on the experience, it is not the long hours crawling through the dirt and shooting guns that stand out in my mind but the bravery and maturity that these young adults commit to their country. My commander was just 19 years old, only three years older than me. She told our group, “You are born knowing that once you turn 18, you will enroll in the army. I was scared just like everyone else, but it’s a way of life.”
What we don’t know in the United States is that the news reports are sensationalized. Pictures of poor Lebanese and their destroyed buildings are abundant while Israel’s destruction is not highlighted. In my opinion, the displaced Israelis who suffer in their own country are overlooked. My group helped prepare apartments on a kibbutz, a collective farm, for Israeli families who had to evacuate from the north. This is the reality.
Now the question is, Did I get it? Yes, I did. The experience is something that words cannot describe. I walked where my ancestors walked.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.