Average Jane

Reconciling My Memories: Birthright Bus 1

I spent a little time at the AJC conference in DC this past weekend. It got me thinking a lot about my connection with Israel, as ill defined as it is. Here’s part 1 of my story.

I stepped off of the plane in Tel Aviv and onto a big, generic coach labeled “Bus 1.” We were 3 hours late, following a bomb scare at Newark and many of the dignitaries had gone home. Hundreds of college students that filled the chartered 747 were either drunk or exhausted. Literally strangers in a strange land, we were symbols. We were guinea pigs. We were the first young adults to ever take a trip supported by Birthright Israel. And we were fucking idiots.

Barely 18 years old, I was a Freshman at the University of Miami. I had become affiliated with Hillel to sort through all the bullshit and confusion I carried out of the socially damaging experience I had in my high school youth group. I knew I wanted to stay connected to my budding Judaism, but I was a miserable, newly pierced and highly combative teenager and had NO problem sharing my baggage with anyone who would carry a piece.

“Keep your grubby faith off my religion!!!” I felt like screaming. After finally knowing my way through the motions, the Rabbi was challenging me to explore my faith. God, to me, was a word. Not a being. Not a power. Not anything I was connected to. Not anyone I called out to. We learned that the stories in the Torah were true enough — allegories (if we needed them to be) or simply a nice story (if we didn’t). Creates a bit of a conundrum when you wind up in Israel. On a tour. With Jews. The idea that “this happened here,” or “that happened there” became too much to handle. It didn’t happen there. It couldn’t. It was a story, a fable. It didn’t feel real because it wasn’t to me.

I battled with faith tooth and nail for 10 days. Maybe looking back I battled against my faith – uncomfortable with the idea of giving into something so esoteric, so uncool. And when I came home I felt nothing. I didn’t miss it. I didn’t yearn for it. I didn’t pray differently. I didn’t talk to God differently. I didn’t book my trip back. I didn’t think much about it at all. When I went on Birthright, there wasn’t a support system to keep us engaged. Instead, we went back to school and back to life. We had no idea what we had been a part of – the first trip ever. The first busload of kids that The Old Jews would pay for to go back to Israel and Make More Jews with the other Jews being wined and dined and wooed by a foreign land. Birthright to me, for better or worse, felt more like a matchmaking service or sperm bank than anything else.

My struggle to connect was not born of my trip to Israel, but it was certainly exacerbated by it.


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