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Visiting Israel On Its 60th Birthday

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Going to a country built by bravery, it took me a while to build my own courage.


Stefanie 'fearlessly' riding a camel in Israel

I’ll be honest—when I first found out I would be going as a reporter on JUF’s Israel @ 60 Mission my first reaction was ‘wow, my job is awesome.’ My second reaction was a panic attack.

Here I was, being offered an unbelievably incredible once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be in Israel during its 60th anniversary, and I was totally, utterly freaked out. At the time, the trip seemed far enough into the future that I could safely say, “of course” and “thank you for the opportunity” and “I’m so excited,” pushing the fear, and the reality that I would eventually have to face that fear, far into the depths of the back of my mind. And it worked. Even in the weeks prior to the trip as I went through all the preparations, I felt excited, anxious maybe, but not afraid. It hit me when I started to pack.

 As images of suicide bombers and Qassam rockets filled my head, I tried to remind myself that I had been to Israel once before and felt totally safe—it didn’t help. Then I tried telling myself that more people have died in car accidents than terror attacks in Israel—it was no use.  Stef, I told myself, you know several people who live there every single day and people travel back and forth all the time. You just have a skewed perspective because you follow Israeli news so closely at work. Okay, I nodded to myself in understanding, but still I did not feel any better. 

 But somehow, fears, irrational thoughts and all, I packed my suitcase, grabbed my notepad and laptop and boarded the plane.

 As soon as I stepped onto the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport, I started to feel a little calmer. ‘See Stef, you can do this.’


Mission participants stepping off the plane at Ben Gurion Airport

That night, Erev Yom HaZikaron, at a special ceremony at the Golani Junction—home to the Golani Brigade Museum, which commemorates the brigade which has earned reputation for its die-hard soldiers—we heard the biographies of the selfless Golani soldiers whose lives had been cut short while serving their country. The next morning at the Kinneret Cemetery, Joel Goldman introduced us to three pioneers of early Zionism who gave up everything, including their families in some cases, to come live on the land that called out to them. Suddenly, all my fears just seemed silly, selfish, unfounded in comparison.

But it wasn’t until the final night of the mission, as I stood at a concert among the thousands of soldiers in uniform at the Tse’elim IDF base that I finally understood.


Omri and Ivri, two brave soldiers at the Tse'elim base

These soldiers, most of them not even 20 years old, sang and swayed and danced together like they hadn’t a care in the world, when in reality, their responsibility to their country would likely bring them to a war zone in Gaza within weeks. Some had already suffered bullet wounds and injuries and would still have to return. Weren’t they totally, utterly freaked out?

Maybe. But they didn’t show it and they certainly weren’t going to let the fear stop them.

And that’s when I realized what Israel is all about—and it’s not Qassam rockets or suicide bombers. Where would we be if the Golani soldiers were too afraid to fight in the war of Independence, or the Six Day War? Or if the early Zionists had said, I’m too scared to leave the familiarity of home?

And where will we be if we let fear stop us from visiting our homeland, from feeling a part of the miracle that is Israel?

Want to know more about the trip? Check out my blog.

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