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Jonathan Smith's Birthright Trip, 2010

Jonathan Smith went to Israel on a Birthright trip this past year (2010).  He went with a group of 45 young adults on a trip coordinated through the U of I Hillel. 

Going to Israel was, “One of the best experiences of my life, a memory that I will never forget going to Western Wall as well as floating in the Dead Sea or marching up Mount Masada as the sun raised, every single experience was a wonderful memory.  I was worried because I didn’t know any single individual out of 45 people.  I was scared going to a country that was supposed to be dangerous without knowing a soul.  I know that a majority of individuals feel this way.  Going to Israel for 10 days meeting new life-long friends, soldiers, beautiful places and having a wonderful experience, what more could I have wanted?  I for one loved every moment of it and would love to go back.  Taking a chance and going was the best idea I have had.”

After reading what Jonathan had to say about his trip I had lots of questions to ask him.  Did he feel the trip changed his connection to Judaism or Israel?  Jonathan said, “The trip did connect me more to my Judaism.  It was fantastic going to Israel and after I got back from Israel I was on a huge Jewish High.   It is good to connect with other Jewish people from the college that I was attending as well.  We don't have many Jew's around here (Central IL) so going to place with only Jews… it is fantastic.” 

I was wondering if Jonathan made any friends on the trip that he has kept in touch with.  It turns out he made a lot of friends, keeping in touch with about a dozen other people from the trip since returning.  He is particularly close with 2 of the participants (who live elsewhere) and he hopes to visit them soon.

What’s it like to visit the Western Wall?  “Here's the thing with the Western Wall, I went to Israel when I was younger, when I went back this year it was just that much better.  I feel like every time you go you get more connected, find something you haven't seen before and have the opportunity to learn something.  As all Jews are, we are constant students and are wanting to learn more and more.  I did put a note in two separate times that we visited in 10 days.”

Jonathan said he climbed Massada as the sun rose.  All I could think about was… could I get out of bed that early?  So I asked Jonathan what time did you leave your hotel.  Here is what he had to say, “We left the hotel around 4:30 in the morning, this was one of the last nights on the trip and a lot of us including myself were running on fumes.  We don't get a lot of sleep on the trip and we all loved hanging with each other.  The walk took around 2 or so hours and we all as a group went up there. Way bigger in person, you see it from a distance and it doesn't look too bad but when we starting walking it looks huge.  We did walk down, it was a ridiculous workout overall.”

What about the Dead Sea.  What’s that all about?  “ The Dead Sea is one of the lowest altitude places in the world. As you probably know the Dead Sea has so much salt in it that we could float but what a lot of people don't know is how it is fun for a short time, it does get uncomfortable after a bit.  The exciting thing that we learned was the mud that they were selling was supposed to be fantastic for our skin.  Obviously we didn't just use it for our skin, we ultimately ended up getting in a huge 40 person mud fight.”