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Why travel?

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You know how every job has its busy times and slow times? After Labor Day, one of Shorashim’s two busiest times of the year begins. Our phones ring off the hook and our necks stiffen as we answer them. We swim through our inboxes racing to answer emails. Our fingers sprint to chat with 18 to 26 year olds across the country (and their parents).

Why the communication overload? Shorashim runs Taglit-Birthright Israel trips. Registration opens for those who have applied during prior rounds on September 8 at 11 a.m. and September 9 for new applicants. We will register more than 1,000 applicants within the first 48 hours if not more, and our small staff will have personal contact with 2/3 of those applicants within the first week.

Anticipation, stress, and excitement permeate an office staff which most of the year works hard, but is also calm and lighthearted. There is no serenity the first three days of registration. The energy is frenetic as we answer questions ranging from safety to eligibility, help technophobes complete their applications, have philosophical discussions on the phone about “Who is a Jew?” and explain what makes Shorashim different: Israelis on the trip for the entire 10 days.

In contrast to what’s to come, this August I attended two retreats through the ICenter and Project InCite for Israel educators. Most of the sessions were practical but a couple of them were cerebral including one prepared by Clare Goldwater, an experienced Israel educator and tour guide from England who now lives in Washington, D.C. Her session was titled, “Some Thoughts on what it means to leave home.”

She used the book “The Art of Travel” by Alan de Botton and referenced the following question that in all my travels throughout the U.S., Canada, Israel, Egypt and Western and Eastern Europe I have never thought about:

Why travel?

Why leave our homes which we fill with comforts to be less comfortable somewhere else?

To answer the question, I returned to those phone calls with Taglit-Birthright Israel registrants. Several people ask, “Why do you think I should go to Israel?”

I have a million answers to that question that I won’t get into here (email me!) but the question I struggle with is why go anywhere? Especially today with globalization, as Clare Goldwater pointed out, you can see anything online and meet anyone from anywhere in the world on the Internet.

Botton probably answers that question in his book that I might read. But as an educator at Shorashim who has been to Israel three times in 2009, I should be able to answer the question, right?

Let me try.

Traveling is similar to falling in love and playing sports. I feel great emotion after engaging in media about love in The Notebook, the poetry of Yehudah Amichai or watching Casablanca, but it doesn’t compare to falling in love itself. The depth of emotion is far greater, far more compelling than the tears that fall from a sad movie. The joy of love and the grief of a broken heart transcends 2 or 3D or even the second world.

Same with sports. I love watching the Bears, ND Football, Cubs, Bulls, IU basketball, but the feeling I get when I (rarely) hit the ball and sprint (and make it to) first base far surpasses the excitement of being a spectator at a baseball game. When I was younger and played soccer, stealing the ball from an opposing teammate was more exhilarating than watching someone else score a goal at a stadium.

Traveling is no different. To absorb, to understand, to experience, you have to visit the place and eat the food, see the sights, breathe the air, and meet the people. It doesn’t mean that additional interaction isn’t necessary like studying the place beforehand or going with an excellent educational tour program to optimize the experience. But being in a new place is like a first kiss or a first interception. It’s an excitement that endures and propels you like no other. You don’t cease to love after your first love and you don’t stop playing after scoring a goal. What happens instead? You want to love more and compete more.

Have a great trip!



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