By Emily Jacobs
I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel to many amazing places and see some beautiful cultures. Having an open mind is the best thing you can bring with you when you travel. I had the pleasure to travel to Israel during the summer of 2013. With some concern from my friends and family, I decided to go on a trip that changed my life.
Don’t worry- this is not a political piece about the conflict that is going on. This is about travel and culture. I went on an 11-day trip to Israel, during which time my group traveled all around the country. My trip was an organized trip made up of 37 Americans and 7 Israeli soldiers. There were two American group leaders and one Israeli organizer. The seven soldiers that were traveling with us were just traveling; they were not on duty during the 11 days. We had a security guard always with us that was trained in first aid and always armed. Now that all the boring stuff is out of the way now we can talk about the culture and travel.
Throughout the 11 days we traveled from the north of the country to the south of the country. While traveling, we were getting to know the Israeli soldiers we were with. Some of the best times were when we were just sitting and talking about how their life is in the military. In Israel, when anyone turns 18 years old they are automatically enlisted in the army. All I wanted to do was understand what their lives were like as soldiers, and all they wanted was to understand what college was like in America, and if it was really like the movies. As different as we were to them, we were all just teens traveling and seeing things we hadn’t before.
While we were traveling through Israel, I couldn’t help but notice how nice the people were. Everyone would strike up conversation with us and when they found out we were from America, they were grateful we were there to see the land and culture. I have never been to a place were the pride of the country was so prevalent everywhere. We learned about the history of how Israel became a free country and the struggle they have overcome and are still fighting for. The Israelis we were with were so happy to share all their family history and loss throughout the years. They were not trying to scare us but instead, they wanted to share their reality with us.
One day we traveled as close as we could to Gaza to see a bomb shelter that is a huge playground for kids. This was built for children to be able to play soccer, basketball, rock climb, and really, just be kids while being safe. There is no secret that Gaza is a heavily targeted area for missiles from both sides of the fighting. When we went inside there were kids everywhere playing as if there wasn’t a war going on right outside. It was so amazing to see these kids play and let loose. We watched a video about the protocol that happens when a missile is detected. In most areas, a siren goes off and there is 15 seconds to take cover before the missile hits. There were two moments in the trip that shook me and really made this video come to life. One was when we were sitting on the boarder between Israel and Syria- we were hearing bombs and missiles go off in Syria and seeing smoke rise from the hits. This was the first day we were in Israel, our Israeli guide wanted to show us the landscape of the countries. When we stopped to look over the land we couldn’t help but hear bombs go off. All the Americans on the trip were looking around and very uneasy while the Israelis barely heard the bombs. Our guide assured us the bombs are contained within Syria and their civil war. The second time was the morning after we visited the bomb shelter- one of our Israelis told us a few hours after we left that a missile hit that neighborhood. Luckily no one was killed, but to know this is normal for them really saddened me and opened my eyes to how lucky I am to live in America. In saying all of that I think it is very important to say that not once did I ever feel unsafe or uncomfortable during the entire trip. I knew what to do if anything was to happen.
If anyone has the opportunity to travel to not only Israel, but anywhere in the Middle East, open your mind to their culture and their “normal”. It was a life-changing trip that has opened my eyes to not only their culture, but also to what we take for granted in our own culture. Regardless of religious or political beliefs, Israel is truly an incredible place with unbelievable history that should not go unseen. Happy and safe travels!