I don't think you can ever get a real sense of something until you actually experience it. As a mid 20's Jewish American, I grew up like most others. My family is traditional, I had a bar mitzvah, and even learned to play guitar at Jewish summer camp. After high school I attended the University of Florida where I became more committed to writing music and being social, then being Jewish. I even played a gig on Kol Nidre one year (true story). All the while though, I felt something was missing. It wasn't until one night of news coverage on the 2006 Lebanon war that I felt a real pull towards visiting Israel. There was something about that situation at that specific point in my life that really seemed to resonate with me.
Being a professional musician made it virtually impossible for me to fund a trip to Israel. That's when I began looking to Taglit as my only hope of getting there. So, I applied, was accepted, and got to go to Israel.
Leaving from New York, we arrived in Tel Aviv to a gracious greeting of Israelis saying "welcome home". I still find this to be a fascinating way to welcome a stranger to a place they have never been, but over the next 10 days it all made sense to me.
I've always enjoyed meeting new people. I find that learning about others and being exposed to realities other than your own is truly "living". Taglit not only allowed me to meet American's whom i would never meet, but it showed me first hand what an Israeli soldier my age lives like. I think this experience is the single most important thing that I took away from Taglit. Although we live a world away, and live very different everyday lives, we are all inter-connected. These soldiers grow up in a tumultuous reality of bombings, violence and survival. When they fight, they are not just fighting for their lives and country but they are fighting for all the Jews around the world.
The sacrifices they have to make at such a young age is admirable, and it really made me think about my own life and things we as Americans all take for granted. When I was 18 I was going to keg parties and learning how to sing correctly. Once their uniforms came off though, I was able to see how much we have in common. I remember sitting on the beach with a few of the soldiers talking about music. I told them I was a singer/songwriter and after much persuasion, I played them one of my songs on my ipod. The look in their eyes while listening was all I need to see. It made us connected... two people from very different backgrounds, sharing an experience through song in a very holy place. Over the next week, we traveled the country, saw biblical and historical sites, and learned the history of the tiny little country.
I still keep in touch with many of the soldiers from the trip, and often see my American friends at my shows in New York City. Taglit not only gave me an opportunity to see Israel for 10 days, but has inspired me to stay aware of the politics of the region, and has even helped mold me into a better songwriter.