It worked. I thought I was above the hype, beyond impressionability. I thought I’d travel as I always have and return as I have always been. I rejected the notion of fast friendships and profound experiences before I even arrived at the airport. It wasn’t going to be me. I wasn’t a rube, I know nothing is free. Ten days of sleep deprivation and high school flashbacks passed, and I drank the Kool-Aid. I didn’t realize I was thirsting to identify with something, parched for a sense of belonging in a profound and meaningful way.
This whole experience has forced me to confront my deepest insecurity, a deeply rooted remnant of my earliest school days where I struggled and failed to be accepted by my peers. I wanted you all to like me. I wanted you to accept me. But I didn’t want to ask for it, work for it, risk not getting it. I didn’t want anyone to know how much it meant to me. I couldn’t even admit it to myself. I let myself stay separate from most of you, make assumptions about who you were and what you valued, found reasons not to participate, allowed myself to feel awkward and stick to socializing on a one-on-one basis. I’ve spent much of my life trying to stand out by standing alone.
Even now, as I write, I’m resistant to talking about this experience. I start to think about my friends who haven’t had the opportunity to participate in a trip like this, and that they’ll laugh at me for being so moved by it. I imagine how the affection we feel for each other could quickly dissipate once we return to our old lives, and that these words will seem sappy and naive. Or, perhaps you’ll think I’m insincere. That I realized I was late to the party and am trying to cultivate a sense of belonging. A sort of deathbed conversion to Taglit. But the outpouring of affection everyone has expressed for each other in our final days together softened me, and the genuine intentions to stay in touch and continue to build on the friendships we’ve cultivated has inspired me.
Those who haven’t had the good fortune to have participated on Birthright just can’t understand why we’re all so overwhelmed by the experience. Everything gets taken away from you in this trip. You have no personal space, no control over when you eat, when you rest, where you go or how you spend your time there. You’re deprived of sleep and over-stimulated by the beauty of the landscape and the history of a people you can’t help but feel connected to. Everything you associate with real life is stripped away, and all that’s left is the people you’re scrambling up a snake trail with and sleeping on top of. We formed our own little tribe; there were bands within it, but loyalties throughout it. We’re thrown together and suddenly the experience ends. It’s jarring, we’ve all felt that, especially me as I transition back into my solitary reality.
But, happily, I know something has changed. Despite my reluctance to participate and to share myself I’ve come away feeling listened to and encouraged. I feel accepted for where I am in my life and what I’m choosing to do with it. I am excited to cultivate the friendships I’ve formed, and grateful to have the time to get to know others of you better. I realized how important it is to me to feel like I’m part of something, and that the fears I had were from another time. I’m confident that from this point forward I’ll be a participant, not an observer. I’m thankful for what all of you have taught me, and look forward to sharing more experiences with all of you in the future.
All my love,