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Visiting the Holy Land This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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Everyone says the same thing: “Going to Israel changed my life.” I never understood or believed this statement. However, it only took stepping off the airplane in Israel for me to realize that this vacation would change my life.

Just a warning: traveling to Israel can be loosely called a vacation. It falls more under the category of a trip or experience. There are no relaxing days on the beach, no full days of shopping, and no time for cell phones or computers. Yet, you will never learn as much in your ­entire life. This may not appeal to the average teenager, however, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

In February, my family went to Israel in honor of my younger brother's Bar Mitzvah. The trip was not your average vacation; everything was planned and scheduled by a tour guide. Our job was to sit back and learn as our guide took us around the small country, teaching us everything we wanted to know. I found it extremely interesting and surprising to learn that 60 percent of tourists who visit Israel are not Jewish. Of course, Jews make up most of the country's population, but of the tourists who visit, Jews are not the majority.
I also learned that Israel is centered around the three major monotheistic religions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Jerusalem is known as the holiest city in the world. This is one reason so many people make pilgrimages to the holy land. Israel is an extremely small country, about the size of New Jersey. However, it seems to welcome more people than it can hold. Even though it is so small, one week is definitely not enough to see everything.

The most popular destinations are Tel Aviv, Eilat, Zvat, the Golan Heights, Jaffa, Jeground, Frusalem, Masada, the Dead Sea, Haifa, and the Western Wall. There is so much to do and see in Israel, and people come from all over the world to experience what the country has to offer.

While in Israel, my family and I spotted some famous people, including John McCain and Joe Lieberman. In addition, the Chilean miners were visiting. We got to meet the senators and miners, and everyone seemed to be enjoying Israel as much as we were.

Many people believe that Israel is all desert and stereotype it as a place with no modern civilization. When I tell people about all the cities, high-rise hotels, and shopping malls, they are amazed. Even though Israel is ancient, it is one of the most technologically advanced societies in the world, with a booming high-tech industry.

Life in Israel is similar to life in America. In fact, 80 percent of Israelis are secular, meaning they rarely participate in religious activities. The kids go to school, play sports, and hang out at night, just like we do. Israeli citizens have Facebook, iPhones, Blackberrys, iPods, computers, and televisions, just like we do. However, one major difference is that after high school, all Israeli students are required to serve in the Army and Defense Forces. Men train for three years, and women for two. It's not uncommon to see the soldiers with their AK-47s hanging by their sides.

On the last night of our trip, everyone in our group shared what Israel meant to them. I said something that everyone seemed to agree with. Even though Israel is halfway around the world, it feels like home. I've never had a stronger connection to any place in my life.

My visit to Israel made me proud to be a Jew. I promised myself as we left that I wouldn't let anything stop me from coming home to Israel again.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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grandma said...
Oct. 15, 2011 at 7:21 pm
Jen- I am so proud of you. What a terrific article. Makes me want to go back and visit israel again. Keep up the good work.
 
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