Israel will always be a special place for me, not only for my spiritual connection, but also for the many opportunities it offers.

The first time I visited was as a 16-year-old on a BBYO trip in the summer of 2006. It was only three weeks, but I saw enough sights to be hooked. I knew I had to go back for longer.

Four years later, I enrolled in the semester abroad program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I spent that summer and fall living in, studying in and getting to know the real Israel, not just the parts they show you on tour groups. I also joined the Jerusalem Lions Rugby Club and competed in Israel’s countrywide rugby league. During that trip, I learned a lot about myself and gained a deeper appreciation for the people of Israel.

David R. Cohen

My next trip was as a member of the U.S. rugby team that competed in the 2013 World Maccabiah Games. The trip was unlike any of my previous excursions, and my jersey and the bronze medal we won are still hanging on my wall at home.

More recently, I had the privilege to accompany a 2016 Conexx business mission to Israel and report on it for the AJT. It was yet another new perspective.

To me, Israel means the freedom to express your Judaism any way you see fit. From observing Yom Kippur at the Western Wall to spending lazy days on the beaches of Tel Aviv, Israel offers something for every one of us.

See all the reflections on Israel’s meaning on this special anniversary.