I went to Israel for the first time at 27 years old, and I fell entirely in love.

To give some background, I am not Jewish nor do I have any Israeli descent. Furthermore, as I type this, it is the year 2018 and we all know about the issues going on in the world and especially in the Middle East. Needless to say, my grandparents were quite weary about me traveling over there for an extended period of time.

But I did it. I never felt unsafe. I felt welcomed. I felt at peace. And in a way, I even felt at home. Coming from a very Greek background, it’s no secret that Israelis and Greeks are culturally similar. This gave me a sense of understanding, and in many cases, a sense of camaraderie. You probably don’t really care about my background, so why am I telling you all of this? Well, so you understand when reading the things I learned that my perspective may be a bit different than yours.

But, if you have ever considered traveling to Israel despite not being of Jewish or Israeli descent, I’m sure one of these will appeal to you.

What I Learned From Traveling To Israel

The media does exaggerate things.

Israel, and especially Jerseulam, have been covered extensively in the media throughout 2018 (and even before). Videos and pictures of complete distress, war zones, and unsafe conditions were shown.

When I was in Israel, I saw none of this. I did not even see a yelling fight between two people. Everyone was friendly. The only “depiction” of “unsafe” conditions I saw were signs at the border of where you were leaving Israel and entering Palestine, which made it known that the area on the other side of the border was unsafe for Israelis.

I’m a pickier eater than I thought I was.

I love food, and always have. I never really thought of myself as a picky eater. But, trying to keep Kosher (as the hotel I was staying at was a Kosher hotel) was harder for me than I thought – dinner without cheese?! How am I supposed to eat my pasta?! I never fully understood the extent of keeping Kosher until I was in Israel and had to experience it myself.

I now have a newfound appreciation for all of you who keep Kosher on a daily basis. I also admire it, which brings me to…

What I Learned From Traveling To IsraelClick To Tweet

The sense of camaraderie.

Seeing all of these Israeli citizens going to pray at the same area, at the same time, was truly heartwarming. Coming together as a community, to give thanks and say prays, without having to worry about judgement, is a beautiful thing. There were men and women of all ages – children included – partaking. I was in Jerusalem over the weekend, and from Friday evening until Sunday, the city pretty much shuts down to honor this.

I saw the true faith and passion of people.

I was fortunate enough to go to the Wailing Wall, and I can truly say I have never seen so many devoted people at one place in my entire life. I obviously was not able to see the men’s side, however I can attest that on the female side, there were females of all ages there participating in prayer. And do you know what was the most beautiful part of this? Every one was praying in their own way, based on their own religion. You can people from all over the world, all from different faiths, together, praying.

I found my religion again.

Now I don’t want to say that I ever truly lost my religion, because I didn’t. But, the majority of us who do practice religion go through phases where we may not be as good as we hope to be.

Being in Israel, and seeing the Holy Land, just wow. I still cannot even put my experience fully into words. You can see where Jesus was born, where He carried the cross, where He was betrayed, where He was crucified. You can see where God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Issac. You can see where King Herod’s palace was. It truly is amazing.

I started liking history.

History was literally my worst subject in school. It happened in the past, it should stay there, was my mindset for far too long.

However, Israel is one of the places that is full of history — regardless of whether or not you are religious. You are literally walking the streets and you are immersed in history that you cannot ignore.

It’s made me want to learn more, to the point that I’m currently reading David Harris-Gerhson’s memoir “What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist who Tried to Kill Your Wife?” I know this book is fairly new, and talks about the bombing that happened at Hebrew University in 2002, but still, it’s a book I most definitely would not have picked up if it wasn’t for this trip to Israel.

I got to know myself better.

They do say that traveling does that to you, doesn’t it? I rode a donkey by myself in the desert. I prayed alongside people doing amazing work in not so great areas. I ate food I never thought I’d eat. I got to float in the Dead Sea. I sat on an airplane for over eleven hours nonstop. I learned more about a religion and a culture that I thought I knew about, but clearly did not.

I thought that this trip was going to be something that was one and done; that I would never feel the need to go back to Israel since I’ve already done it. Well, I was wrong. There’s so much more I want to see. There’s so much more I want to learn about myself.

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