I’m a Science guy, he’s religious, she’s a sorority girl, and they’re into meditation. Could we be more different?
We were 40 strangers about to share our space, our time, and our travel snacks for the next 10 days. It’s understandable that I was nervous.
I figured that all things going well, we’d get on just fine. The trip would be fun, and at the end we’d all go our separate ways and probably never see each other again.
What I didn’t expect was that this weird bunch of people would be the heart and soul of my trip. That when I’d look back on the experience, I’d say that above all the awesome things we did and saw, it’s the people that were the real highlight for me.
At first I thought we were just lucky, but then my trip counselor let me in on a little secret.
“It’s not just us, it’s what Birthright Israel brings out in people.”
No matter where we’re from, or what unique talents we might have, when we touch down in Israel, we’re on equal ground. We’re all experiencing this one-time gift for the first time, we’re all in unfamiliar territory, and we’re all just as nervous about not connecting with the other people on our trip. All this means that we’re equally excited, confused, and ready to overcome the initial awkwardness and form new friendships.
Because Sachlav is all about Jewish diversity and being open to everyone, their groups are generally made up of people from all backgrounds and levels of observance. Because everyone is so different, you give up trying to fit in, and rather just go with being yourself. That’s when the magic begins. You become open to meeting new types of people as you realize how much you have in common, despite your differences. You realize that having such a diverse mix of people is what makes the experience that much more interesting.
Shared experiences and inside jokes also go a long way to making you really feel like you belong. After all, some of the best friendships are built on shared experiences. One moment we’re painting each others faces with mud, the next we’re dancing the night away in Tel Aviv or using our neighbor as a bus pillow.
The cherry on top, and probably the strongest social glue, is shared history. As we were travelling through Israel hearing the stories of those that came before us, it hit me that all that Jewish people have achieved, and the very existence of Israel, is because we stuck together. Looking back in history, the only times when things have gone wrong for Jews is when we haven’t stuck together, when we’ve paid more attention to our differences than to what connects us.
Fast forward to a year after my trip, and that religious guy is one of my best friends, and the girl who spends most of her life upside down in some kind of yoga pose, is marrying my brother! Weird right? Well, she’s awesome so it’s ok. Not my type, but I love her anyway!
– Brendan Weisman