<h6> Ben Crain ’16 </h6>

On July 8, 2014, I began my journey to Israel.  It was time.  Time to get away from constant questions of, “Have you finished your summer reading?” and “Have you done any SAT prep?”  Time for a break from my siblings.  Time to meet the people on my B’nai Brit Youth Organization trip, or BBYO. Time to fulfill those service hours. Time to get to know my roots on a whole new level. Would I finally be able to counter those who had said we should divest in Israel, or that Israelis were as evil as white South Africans?

For days I had been packed.  I received my updated polio vaccine. I was now just anxious to leave.  I said my farewells, and we left for JFK.  As my Mom drove, absorbed in NPR, I sat daydreaming about what I imagined the next three weeks would be like.  Suddenly, I was brought back to reality by my mother turning up the radio. As the broadcaster’s voice drained out all other sounds, I learned that the Iron Dome was no longer stopping the Hamas’ rockets.  Rockets were landing in Israel.

I had not been completely uninformed.  I knew going to Israel carried risk.  On my brother’s two trips there, however, armed Israeli soldiers had guarded his groups.  There is a sense of comfort and security, real or imagined, that these young soldiers provided. Yet in Israel’s sixty-six years, and from its very inception, it has fought in at least ten wars.  During the weeks preceding my trip, three Israeli teens were kidnapped.  After eighteen long days, where the country seemed to stop, search, hope and pray together, their bodies were found. A Palestinian boy was kidnapped and murdered in a sickening retaliation. And then, Hamas began its rocket offensive.

BBYO had never cancelled a trip in the history of more than a half century of organized tours.  I had three friends on two different trips that were already in Israel.  They must be fine. They HAD to be fine. I tried to convince myself I would be too.

When we arrived at the terminal, the group sat in matching T-shirts. I immediately began socializing.  We had formed a Facebook group previously, so everyone was already familiar with each other.  As the parents stood aside talking to each other, we sat anxious and excited to leave them.  Finally, a counsellor made an announcement: “Parents, please don’t leave.  The trip has been cancelled.  Rockets just reached Tel Aviv.”  Was this a joke?

Like often in life, we had to make a choice: take another trip elsewhere or wait for a refund.  Two weeks later, all 40 teens from my group were reunited again at JFK.  Most of us chose to go on to Western Europe together; now we walked through news cameras and reporters who wanted to know our story.  No longer were we going on a service trip, exploring our roots and the politics of the Middle East, but we were off to discover more about ourselves, each other, and our Jewish history in Europe.

As tensions from the war spread throughout the world, we were told not to wear anything that would identify us as Jewish except within the walls of a synagogue.  Often, our trip through the four countries (France, England, Holland and Belgium) felt harried.  Who drives hours to Stonehenge to take a picture and get back on a bus, or goes into the Louvre and rushes to see the Mona Lisa and only a few other highlights?

From another standpoint, I have made friends from all over the country that I am planning on seeing at a BBYO leadership conference in April.  I got an introduction to historical sights, foods, and cultures. I anticipated becoming more knowledgeable about my religion, yet it was the pride I felt as an American when we landed in Normandy that was the most unexpected outcome.  The museum, the beach, the sight of the thousands of gravestones provided a visceral reminder of the ultimate sacrifice our soldiers made.  Now as I study U.S. History, I read words that no longer just lie on the pages of a book.  It was time, now to go elsewhere.