This trip was organized around my brother's and sister's b'nai mitzvah, which we celebrated at the Western Wall under Robinson Arch. As they recited passages from the Torah, I imagined our ancestors reciting identical words while standing on the exact soil we stood on. I imagined them making their way to adulthood in the same way that my brother, Jeremy, and my sister, Daniella, left their youth behind for maturity. Before I begin, let me just say that this experience cannot be recreated in words. This article is merely an attempt to describe how it feels to be really home, and I'm not talking about a residence. I'm talking about when one arrives in the state that our ancestors have lived in for thousands of years, about being so rooted in the Holy Land that you become one with it. You melt into an environment filled to the brim with many people who may not be like you but share with you at least one thing: Judaism.
The story of Israel's ascent is purely the product of a set of miracles, which, as fellow Jews, most of us know. As a child, I went to Sinai Akiba Academy and learned all about this state's special qualities. I formed a bond with Israel and all that it stands for at that school and also at home from my family. It is simply incredible that we have a Jewish state today, and not just any state, but one that Jews have been fighting to gain and keep for thousands of years.
To feel immediately at home the mere second that I walked off my plane after a 14-hour flight was a tremendously gratifying experience. I truly felt a part of something great, and I have never been as proud to be a Jew as I was in that one moment.
My grandfather, who is not religious, told me that on his first trip to Israel, he wept when his plane landed. He never understood why. One of the many poignant experiences that I had in Israel was planting trees and dedicating them to loved ones. We were given little plants with roots to bury in the ground so that they may grow into larger trees, much needed in the Israeli desert. We said a prayer for the trees and for the people for whom we had dedicated the trees. I was fascinated to learn that more than 220 million trees have been planted in Israel by citizens and visitors so far.
Through a program called the Terror Victims Project, organized by Chabad, we visited a family who were all terror victims. We met a mother and her five children, one of whom is deaf in one ear and another of whom is blind in one eye. The children are all under 11 years old, and one of the survivors, who was less than a year old at the time of the bus bombing that shattered this family, was found buried under bodies, which served as his protection against the flying metal.
Their story was particularly inspiring to me because they are still a strong family, with their children in school and their father in physical rehabilitation. They are struggling to get better and are determined not to give up. They have proved to us all that no matter the hardships that our State of Israel has endured and has yet to endure, it will survive.
One of my first reactions to Israel was that it is dusty and dry. It is, after all, a natural desert, and it is therefore almost impossible to grow crops without the modern irrigation methods and systems for which the Israelis are famous.
As a child learning about Israel in my religious school, I often found myself wondering why it was so holy if the land was disagreeable for farming and the weather was too hot. Yet, despite these things, this land, I can almost guarantee, is the most loved land in the world. It is wrapped in layers of protection and affection by its inhabitants and completely appreciated for all that it is. The fact that the Israeli earth is just soil like the rest of the world suggests that what people love about this land is more than merely physical: It is its soul and what it represents to them and the world.
To learn about Israel, its landscape, its people, its way of life is simply, I have discovered, not enough. One must go there to feel that special feeling I got as soon as I deplaned. To go to Israel is to discover its spirit and also a part of yourself you may not have known was there.
Ariel Cohen is a 10th-grader at The Archer School for Girls.
Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the December issue is Nov. 15; deadline for the January issue is Dec. 15. Send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.