My grandmother never got to Israel.
Although we rarely agreed on much, she was an inspiration. My grandmother, my Nana, was a single, working mother in the 1960’s, and later, she helped raise me. She taught me that regardless of gender, race, income, religion or any of the things that divide us, we are all equal in the eyes of G-d and the law. She taught me that Israel and America are similar in many ways; we value the rights of freedom of speech and expression and religious practice, and that the right of self-determination of the minority could never be negotiable.
But she also taught me that there was something special about Israel. That magic was real there. That miracles could happen. That the secrets to peace in the whole world would someday be found there. Even though she never got to Israel, she held a love for a country she saw founded on the other side of the world when she was only sixteen years old.
As you read this on Wednesday morning, I am in the skies on Delta flight 2262 with forty young participants, most from Nevada, headed to Tel Aviv as I staff the 2016 Birthright Israel Nevada Community trip.
In 2010, I went to Israel for the first time. It was on a Birthright Israel trip sponsored by the Jewish community in southern Nevada. And one of the greatest moments of my life was placing a small note from my Nana into a crack in the Wall on that trip. My grandmother never got to Israel, but that day, a little piece of her did. By the time I returned to Israel in 2013, I could not do this for her again. When she passed in 2012, I knew that I would never be able to do that for her again.
Over the course of the next ten days, I will meet new people. I will visit places I’ve never been to before. I will see new things in new ways. I hear there’s a kangaroo habitat about an hour north of Jerusalem now, and I’m excited to feed some ‘roos. But I’ve had my first trip to Israel, and I’ve made those memories, and I will never again be there for the first time.
Which is why it is so exciting that each time I staff a Birthright Israel trip, I get to see Israel for the first time through eighty new eyes. When they see Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, the sunrise over Masada and camels in the Negev for the first time, so will I. When they place notes into cracks in the Wall in Jerusalem for themselves and their friends and families for the first time, in that moment, I will too.
I am honored to be staffing this trip for the third time. I am grateful to the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas for choosing me again. I’m fortunate to work for an organization like Midbar Kodesh that values this work enough to let me go for two weeks, no questions asked. I’m lucky that I am staffing with Sarah Steinberg, one of my best friends and a talented educator in our community.
I’ll be keeping you updated on our travels on the Midbar Kodesh Temple blog. You can follow along with us on Facebook and Twitter. Just search for #Birthright, #IsraelOutdoors and #Bus149. If you know young adults who are eligible for their own Birthright trip, please let us know. Over half a million participants from every U.S. state and sixty other countries have experienced the program since it’s inception sixteen years ago, but it can only grow if we tell everyone we know.
In a little over two weeks, I’ll be back in Las Vegas, and I cannot wait to share the stories and photos of this trip with all of you.
Andrew Spivak is the Director of Advancement at Midbar Kodesh Temple in Henderson, NV. When he's not at Midbar Kodesh, Andrew is probably watching a Yankees game with his wife, Marissa, and his cat, Frankie. You can find Andrew on Facebook at www.facebook.com/andrew.spivak.