Let My People Know
The biggest challenge for today’s Jews is “to let our people KNOW.” A new generation of Jews needs a good history lesson. They know not what Israel is fighting for, nor how important Israel is to the survival of Jews across the world. Thus this week, in place of my blog, I’ve interviewed a young man, Josh Friedman, 24, who has just returned from his first trip to Israel through the Birthright program which offers free educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18-26.
Josh’s answers were so good and touching that I decided not to turn this into a story but just to serve up the Q’s & A’s as they are. Please pass this interview around to inspire other young adults to partake of this incredible program.
Q: What did you know about Israel really before you left?
A: I really didn’t know all that much. I knew it was the Jewish “homeland” and there was a ton of blood spilled to make it happen, and I knew it was a holy land with many landmarks, but other than that I didn’t know much besides what I saw in the media and heard through word-of-mouth.
Q: When you got there was it what you imagined it to be?
A: Not at all. I thought it would be a giant desert with missiles flying overhead and threats of suicide bombers everywhere. What I found was a modern city (Tel-Aviv) and a holy place (Jerusalem) with a lot of open, beautiful land in between. The people, at least the ones I met, were similar to New Yorkers – a bit rough around the edges, but once you crack the surface warm.
Q: Were there any parts that made you cry or touched your heart more than others? Where? When? why?
A: There were many moving moments, but the most intense had to be at Har Herzl. This was towards the end of the trip when we had all bonded with the soldiers. To see the empty space where future soldiers would be buried, with them, was an experience I’ll never forget. I consider them all my brothers and sisters and to see a plot of land where they could potentially end up moved me to tears.
Q: What surprised you most about Israel?
A: The bond with the soldiers surprised me most. I expected to meet them, get along, then say our goodbyes. What I got was (hopefully) life-long friends. I am in touch with all of them already on Facebook and we all can’t wait for them to come to the United States or for me to go back. They were just like American kids I grew up with except for an added toughness and maturity from their time in the army. They showed me what it meant to be an Israeli and a good person.
Q: What inspired you to go?
A: The fact that the trip was free and I was getting closer to being 27, which was the cut-off, and my desire to re-connect with my Jewish faith and roots.
Q: How do you feel about being Jewish now as opposed to before?
A: Religious-wise the same--unsure about what’s out there--but I’m much more proud to be Jewish and have Israel as my home.
Q: What do you want the world to know about Israel?
A: That it’s not what the media says. There aren’t rockets flying overhead, and Israel’s soldiers are DEFENDING Israel, NOT attacking enemies. There’s always a story behind headlines like “Israeli soldier kills Palestinian boy.” Soldiers there act to defend Israel. That’s why it’s called the IDF, Israel Defense Force, not army. Also, Israel itself is much more modern than you might think. Tel Aviv could pass for any American city.
Q: Why is it important for young Jews to go on this trip?
A: Number one, it’s a free trip, that should be enough. But more importantly, it’s a chance to travel to your homeland and truly discover your Jewish roots and to see what your faith really is. It’s a chance to travel to a place that many would kill to get to even once. And it’s a chance to see what Israel is really like, not what people tell you or what you hear. To get to travel to the places you’ve only heard and read about is a priceless gift that every Jew should take advantage of.
Q: What was the most fun you had on the trip?
A: Any activities with the soldiers. They gave us glimpses into their personalities and lifestyles while making us all grow closer as a family. Either those activities or when we spent time at bars in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Not just the alcohol, but it also allowed us to spend time--free of worries--with our new Israeli family.
Q: What food did you like the most?
Q: What did you feel when you saw young men and women, younger than you, in the army?
Would you have joined the army?
A: It really put things in perspective – these kids are defending Israel at an age where I was playing video games and worrying about what college I was going to. They’re mature beyond their years, by far. And they’ve been through more than I could have imagined. Nine/Eleven is definitely the most traumatic event I’ve been through, but all these kids have known at least more than one person killed in the Israeli army and have been in war first-hand.
I am thinking about joining the army, the only thing stopping me is my fear that I’m not tough enough for it.
Q: Please share the range of emotions you felt on this trip.
A: Everything from laughter to the point of stomach pain to tears and everything in between.
Q: How has this trip changed your life?
A: I am more proud to be Jewish and am very much pro-Israel. I was neutral before the trip. After being to Israel and seeing first-hand what its citizens do to defend the land, I have a greater respect for the place itself and its residents. I also am more motivated to set goals in my own life and achieve them, because wasted time is not an option for Israelis, nor should it be one for me.
Q: What is the most meaningful memento you brought back?
A: An Israeli flag. Although I could have gotten that anywhere, the fact that I bought it in Jerusalem and it now hangs in my room will remind me of the trip everyday.
Q: What part of Josh do you feel you left behind?
A: Hopefully the angry, bitter, cynical part, or at least some of it.
Q: Did you have any interactions or episodes with Arabs?
Q: Who is your favorite music group?
Q: What kinds of fun things do you do in NY?
A: Go to bars, explore Manhattan and sight-see, attend games and concerts, spend time in Times Square.
Q: Did my Gaga for Israel T-shirt campaign, which you helped me work on, influence you in anyway?
A: Yes, because I had not heard of many of the figures before the campaign. The campaign inspired me to find out more, which I did on my own somewhat, but my knowledge expanded infinitely after my trip.
Josh asks for all inquiries to be directed directly to him: Friedman.firstname.lastname@example.org. If he can recruit ten more people to join the next trip he can return again as a counselor.