By Will Finkelstein

Georgia Tech Hillel organized a Birthright Israel trip that left Atlanta on Dec. 15 and returned Dec. 27. The bus carried 39 students, mostly from Georgia Tech but including several from Georgia State and one from Georgia Southern. Hillels of Georgia sent its Israel fellow, Moran Shabo, and Daniel Bekerman, the Jewish life coordinator at Georgia State Hillel, as the two Birthright staffers. Here are the thoughts of one of the students.

A camel ride is part of the Birthright experience for the Georgia Tech group.

A camel ride is part of the Birthright experience for the Georgia Tech group.

I have always been the type of person who felt he had to visit a place to have any actual connection to it; one can only experience so much from hearing others’ anecdotes.

Growing up, I was always told that Israel was a marvelous place by people of all ages. Many would even add that it was necessary for the continuation of our religion and the Jewish people as a whole. I would listen respectfully, thank them for sharing their experience, reflect on their words but have difficulty relating.

I had only ever been in the United States, where I had always seen diverse Jewish culture and a thriving society permitting many levels of observance. Could this not be our home?

After having the chance to travel throughout Israel, basically free of charge thanks to Taglit-Birthright, I realized how wrong I had been about where we should consider home.

The modern-day existence of the state of Israel is a miracle when you consider all that the Jewish people have been through. Seeing the combination of a modern, industrialized society alongside historical and religious sites in a highly contested geographic region restores pride and the hope that we are not leaving.

In 10 days we were able to have a traditional tourist experience enhanced by stories and activities revolving around cultural, historical, religious and political understanding. Going through this adventure with 38 other American young adults, mainly from the Atlanta area, two Hillel staff members and four Israeli ones, and an additional eight Israeli soldiers and hearing about how the trip affected each one of them proved how effective and stimulating this program is.

Hearing the others was impressive to me because many of them had experienced Israel at some point before. In the end, everyone could agree, with no dispute, that Israel is an infinitely meaningful location, crucial to our existence.

I am privileged to have been able to take part in a program funded so heavily by donations and other gestures of tzedakah. Hillel, Taglit and Israel are all amazing blessings for me to have felt, and I plan to return to Israel throughout my adult life.

Will Finkelstein is a Georgia Tech sophomore from Macon majoring in public policy and French with a minor in international affairs.