Traveling to Israel offers a spiritual renewal
Published: Monday, November 12, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 12, 2012 18:11
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with two university students who had spent a year between high school and college in a land thousands of miles away from home: Israel. While most of us spend the interim period between high school and college fumbling around for purpose or embarking on last-minute moments of truly youthful rebellion, Helene Zinckgraf and Jordan Syatt embarked on a tremendous journey and received an overwhelming amount of life experience in return.
Zinckgraf and Syatt were a part of a Masa program, which provides various study-abroad, gap year and volunteering opportunities in Israel to adults between the ages of 18 and 30. My question was, how could two East Coast kids get up and leave their homes for a period of nine months to live in a Middle Eastern country that has been relentlessly portrayed as a hot bed of violence and devastation? Syatt was quick to reflect on his personal experience of the safety issue in Israel and to reassure me by telling me, “I’ve felt more unsafe in New York City than in Israel. Once during a routine evacuation of a bus station in the city of Be’er Sheva, a falafel stand was continuing to take orders while the police evacuated the citizens—Israelis generally feel very protected and don’t let fear dictate their lives.” This peaceful quality of the people Syatt and Zinckgraf interacted with has grown out of, and in spite of, the fact the country is surrounded by neighbors who repeatedly attempt to wipe Israel off the map.
While hostile groups like Hamas and Hezbollah (pro-Islamic government factions in power in Gaza and Lebanon, respectively) preach violence in response to any perceived Israeli offense, the people of Israel live by the rule of “Beseder”—a quasi-groovy notion meaning everything is all right. This truly unique environment was encapsulated for Zinckgraf when spring break happened to fall on the week of the Passover, a Jewish holiday. “[My friends and I] ended up on a random bus in a random town in the middle of nowhere somewhere in Northern Israel,” Zinckgraf said.
“Within minutes of talking to us, a bunch of local girls took us with them all over the north.” In fact, this wasn’t an isolated instance of kindness, and Zinckgraf said, “Everyone was really generous and ready to help.” The smiles on the faces of Syatt and Zinckgraf at the very memory of their trip were all I needed to assure myself Israel was anything but the inhospitable desert hermit often portrayed in the media.
During their stay in Israel, Zinckgraf and Syatt spent roughly nine months volunteering for different organizations around the country. Syatt spent some time at an elderly community center in Jerusalem, while Zinckgraf worked at a horse rehabilitation farm for kids with disabilities. All the while, the two became immersed in local traditions and got the chance to give back to the people who had already given them so much.
If volunteering and learning in a warm and welcoming foreign land isn’t quite your thing, why should you consider travelling to Israel? It is home to the shared mythologies of Islam, Christianity and Judaism—Zinckgraf notes, “There’s just so much history everywhere you look, anywhere you go there will be tons to learn.” But possibly of more importance, are the beautiful people and beaches, and Syatt says, “For the fellows out there—the Tel Aviv beaches are home to the nicest and prettiest girls around.”
Certainly, Syatt and Zinckgraf’s opinions reflect my own, which provided me with the motivation to work for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. It is from my personal experiences regarding Israel that spur me to write and host events. With CAMERA’s full support, I will be able to give my friends and peers an accurate and educational perspective on the challenging questions many of you may have about Israel and a chance to discover what it is that makes Israel such an irresistible country to visit.