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You Just Have To Go

Meet One of Our Past Israel Adventure Participants

Alanna Smith
Alanna Smith Birthright Israel

If I could tell pre-Israel-me one thing, it would be “Take those expectations, and throw them out the window. Your world is about to be rocked.”

When people ask me how my trip was, I usually start by saying that Israel far exceeded any expectations I had, in every which way. Then I follow up with how it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen, and how I’m forever changed for the better. I tell them I’ve officially eaten my weight in chummus and pita, danced on the edge of a cliff on Shabbat, and floated in a ‘wonder of the world' (aka the Dead Sea). I ask, would you like me to teach you some Hebrew slang? Or would you rather see pictures of places that actually exist and are written about in the Bible? (Usually the answer is both!)

But if I’m going to get down to what really made my trip special, it will always be the people I met. Threee weeks ago before departing to Israel, I could count the number of Jewish people in my life on one hand (excluding my family, of course). And to be honest, our Jewish bond never went beyond simple questions like, “When’s Chanukah this year?” 

Then, I went on Birthright Israel.

 I joined a group of 30 strangers on a Sunday afternoon at Terminal B in Newark Airport.  Within 10 minutes, I met someone from my own city of Philadelphia. 

24 hours later, I was across the world with people I felt like I’d known forever.

 I wonder if every group feels as unique as ours did. All I can say is I expected to make a couple friends, maybe have some meaningful conversations every once in a while, but mostly laugh and play and enjoy this complimentary vacation. What I expected, was far exceeded. Those 30 people became my mishpacha, my family. On a daily basis, I was impressed and surprised with how open-minded, accepting, encouraging, and well-meaning everybody was. always. That’s rare. It’s rare that I get to immerse myself in an environment that is both new and exciting, and conducive to growth and exploration. While we were all at different points on our spiritual journey with Judaism, it never once felt isolating. Together, we shared stories from our pasts and learned about our dreams. We questioned each other, and always dared to ask the tough ones. Arm in arm, we made sure to soak up every moment of goodness Israel presented.

I can’t talk about our mishpacha without mentioning our two Israel Experts staffers, as well as our Israeli tour-guide: our leaders, and our friends. These three special human beings made that supportive environment I just mentioned a huge priority. They were generous in spirit, invited questions always, and didn’t know anything but 110%. Every day felt spectacular to them, and consequently to our group.

I never expected to know so many beautiful people all over the country, and the world, but I’m so glad I do now. 

I’m so glad I have a Jewish community to help me continue to explore this Jewish identity. I’m so glad I ate so much chumus! 

I’m so glad that now that I’m back, I accidentally say words like “thank you” and “excuse me” in Hebrew, and that people ask me what that means. 

 I’m so glad I took that leap of faith and did something so magical. 

You just have to go, to know. Go!


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