We arrived at Ben Gurion, schluffed through security, I managed to talk the woman at the counter out of charging me for a bag that somehow acquired 11 pounds on the trip, shopped at duty free, and sat down at our gate. I needed a window seat. I walked up to the Continental desk, requested a change, it was processed, and I was set for a row in the 40s on the window. I sat down, chatted with my new friends, and then it was time to board the three-cabin behemoth of a plane. I realized, after taking my seat, that I was rows and rows away from my new friends, placed in the midst of one of the other Birthright groups, for the nearly 12-hour ride home. I took out my journal (that Tuvia's stepmom got me) and began to attempt to write more notes about the trip and the Shabbat adventures I hadn't recorded. Then? The plane took to the runway and lifted into the clear, blue Israeli sky. And I?
I started to cry. Alligator tears. Uncontrollable drops that confused me. I watched as Israel disappeared behind me as we went up, up, up. I peered out my little window, watching as we went away, moving away from Israel -- like the women who walk backwards as they leave the Western Wall, like leaving a loved one, it's hard to just turn around and leave. I watched until my neck hurt from looking backwards and until I couldn't see the coast any longer amid the thinning clouds. And even when I couldn't see Israel anymore, I kept crying.
I can't really explain the emotion, but I feel like I've left something very special behind. Like a piece of me was buried in the desert, dropped while riding camels or sleeping in the Bedouin tent or watching the sun rise slowly and then quickly over the Judean desert. Something was left there, and maybe it's why my stomach feels so empty today.
When we first went on the trip, the trip madrachim told us that they didn't want to be so bold as to call us Israelis, but that they hoped that by the end of the trip, we would be proud and eager to call ourselves as such. I can honestly say, with a full heart and a steady mind that I am an Israeli. Albeit, more of the Jerusalem or Kibbutzim Israeli than a Tel Aviv Israeli (to be honest, T.A. just didn't jibe with me).
I have so many stories to tell. I have people to talk about. Forty and more new friends I made with varying degrees of Jewishness that is as beautiful as the varying terrain across Israel. I have stories to tell about people who touched me and people I touched, stories that are amusing ("welcome to pimp my camel!") and stories of tragedy (visiting the border with Lebanon and Syria and Gaza and the Save a Child's Heart program) that always, ALWAYS manage to defeat the odds in the pursuit of life and happiness.
It will take me weeks. It might take months. But eventually I hope I can really explain what Israel has done to me. Watching, while we were still in Israel, as missiles and bombs flew out of Gaza onto homes and hopes, I was devastated. I knew IDF soldiers who, after our departure, were likely heading there, into Gaza, in order to protect Israel and the Jewish people. One of the soldiers? His family's home was destroyed in the attacks. Listening to the stories and hearing how people live day-by-day and how they just want to do that -- live -- has given me a newfound respect for the Israel Defense Forces, the soldiers who are there fighting for ME, and the entire country and its hopes and efforts. So, being here, in the U.S., the place that the customs man called "home" when welcoming me back, is difficult. Incredibly difficult. Because I now know what is on the other side, and I know what I have left behind.
At any rate, I have lots of unpacking to do, a stomach to make better, more sleep to get, and pictures -- of which there are hundreds -- to look through. Until then?
Am Yisrael Chai!