By: Ben Ruskin
Ben Ruskin is a Junior at Sycamore High School in Cincinnati. He travelled to Israel last summer using a Cincy Journeys high school Israel travel grant and spent three weeks on BBYO’s Israel Journey.
My trip to Israel was unlike any other travel experience that I have been a part of. First of all, I would like to extend my gratitude toward the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati and The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati for generously sending me to the Holy Land for free. The trip that I took this past summer has changed me in ways that are still visible today.
The most amazing thing about Israel is its size. After studying a map of Israel before my trip, I was aware that it is a fairly small country. In fact, the state of Israel can fit into Texas 34 times. I was expecting to stay in a city-sized area and have fairly minimal traveling time. I could not have been more incorrect.
After traveling around Israel for almost a month, I discovered that it is the biggest small country that I have ever visited. I distinctly remember a day of traveling on the second half of the trip; our tour bus had been stopped at a gas station for a quick bathroom break. After we boarded the bus once again, we drove up the street. After exploring the surrounding area with some friends, we stumbled upon the most breathtaking view. The only way I could even think to describe the site is to compare the view to the Grand Canyon, but the comparison does not give the landscape the justice it deserves. I looked around for a “scenic viewpoint” sign, but no such sign could be found. At a random gas station in Israel, I saw the most spectacular site I’d ever seen and the location did not even have a name. Where else in the world does that happen?
The other aspect of my Israel trip that I enjoyed deeply was during the celebration of “Eid al Fitr” or the Muslim celebration for the end of the month of Ramadan. After looking outside the window of my room at a youth hostel, I discovered a massive party in the streets. There were small carnival rides, snacks, games, and blaring music. Everyone wore a smiles on their faces, proud that they had completed yet another month of fasting for Ramadan. Lately, I have recalled watching this celebration take place (and hearing the music play late into the night). With all of the conflicts that revolve around the religion of Islam recently, I think back to the time I spent celebrating with all of the diverse people that I met in the street. The locals of the city decorated me with necklaces and noisemakers to celebrate the end of a holiday that I did not participate in. Even though I was an “outsider,” I was treated with hospitality and kindness.
I know that people are inherently good, but lately it seems like the news feels otherwise. Israel taught me to treat everyone with kindness, no matter the circumstances, and that is a lesson that I will never forget.