Religion & Beliefs
Birth Writing: The End Of The End
A birthday, the Kotel, the Holocaust Museum, some drinking, and a lot of reflection on the last days of a Birthright Israel trip. Read More
We were all here for a number of reasons: to connect with religion, with faith, with Israel, with a sense of adventure and danger and a sense of the self. To drink, to dance, to flutter and flirt, to live one of the rare occasions life has to offer where you are exactly what you do and nothing more; where the baggage of the past is left behind and everyone exists as a lovely little question mark.
I was there to find the things I felt my life had been missing, to see just how this current version of myself holds true while splattered across a blank canvas. Above all I was there to fan the smoldering embers of every day life and see how long it takes to spark fire.
Sunday, January 9th. At midnight I turned 25. Ellen, a USC sorority girl heading to Teach For America in the spring, shares my birthday – she will be 22. I had never met anybody who has the same birthday as me. We spent quite some time discussing the coincidence of it all.
That afternoon, we walked through the old Temple, our destination the Wailing Wall. We split into our respective gendered sections and prayed our way towards the stones of the oldest world. The man laid Tefillin, muttered words of indecipherable Hebrew meaning not nearly as much as the feeling of the tight leather bands cutting into our skin in the afternoon light. I pray – a scattered version of the Shacharit morning service, whatever I can recall by heart, which is enough still to this day to surprise me.
We spent the afternoon at Mount Herzl cemetery, taking an emotional tour through the graves of countless 20-something soldiers whose smiling faces look like people I’ve probably hit on or partnered with for beer pong. We looked to our own soldiers, all in uniform for the first time since we landed, all kids, just like us, thrust into an adult world a bit too soon. We read the weariness in their eyes. We cried. We thanked our lucky stars that we are who we are, what we are, from where we are and when.
The following day we were to visit Yad Vashem. When group leader Matt asked us not to do any drinking the night before, despite it being Erev Yom-My-Birthday, we had to respect that. I’m not one to overlook an opportunity to celebrate anything, least of all the anniversary of my birth, and so the game was afoot: how does a group of hard-partying 20-somethings remain respectful but still have a good time in mine (and Ellen’s) honor(s)?
I called the front desk. Suddenly, I am ‘Jay From Taglit’ and ‘we have some evening programming that we’d like to run here tonight’ and ‘well, I don’t know what to tell you, sir, I’ve got 40+ kids and three hours of evening events that we need a space for’ and ‘I’m not sure if the bomb shelter will do!’ and ‘dance floor, you say?’ and ‘thank you very much, you’ve been more than accommodating, I’ll be sure to tell my superiors.’
We arranged for iPod speakers and sodas and chips and balloons and it’s all just the right kind of depressing, and there, in the dimly-lit bomb shelter of a Jerusalem hotel, we threw a strange version of a shitty Middle School Dance. It is everything I wanted – people dancing freely, until we’re all sweaty and giggling and having the time of our lives. At midnight, Ellen and I were placed on chairs and paraded around the room. It was terrifying and electrifying and felt like my bar mitzvah all over again, where once more I am now a man except this time I pay electric bills and can hold my liquor.
It was an excellent birthday and one I will never forget.
We woke the next morning, in various states of stupor. It was our last day. No one said anything.
We boarded the bus to Yad Vashem. The experience is soul-shakingly powerful. Whereas before, I had been greatly saddened by the staggering losses of the Jewish people, in this visit I was stunned by my own anger, by the bubbling bile of hatred within me for anyone who could do such things, and I was moved to tears. At some point it became too much and, eyes blurry, I ran outside of the room and had to hold my own head and breath very carefully to regain control. In short: man, the Holocaust? Some real fucked-up shit.
We left, each of us powerfully moved. How do you follow a thing like that? You can’t. You can’t follow it.
We boarded the bus for the second to last time and drove to a winery in Nachshon. We had our closing ceremonies, including a series of B’nai Mitzvot. I was filled with an odd sense of pride to watch my new friends as they speak their minds about Judaism and the role it plays in their lives before we briefly read from the Torah and shout Mazel tov and pelt everything we can with handfuls of small waxy candies. In an hour we’d be at the airport, and in two, we’d be on a plane, and in four I’d have convinced the stewardess to slip me bottles of juice to act as mixers for the three full bottles of liquor that I tend bar with out of my seat on our fifteen hour odyssey back to Los Angeles. And we will land and we will lose each other intermittently throughout customs and security and by the time we actually get outside the magic will have gone; we’ll be alone once more; this time will be over and the moments will have passed and I will (I have) for days think back and smile, and I will probably continue to do so for the rest of my life. This has been a very special time, everything rife with meaning and power, a time to rediscover the things I love about myself and come back to Los Angeles the same but better and still very different.
But for now — we hug and we kiss and we take endless group photographs and we trade email addresses and make promises and some of us even cry. We have lived these days and, like it or not, in our heads and our hearts, are tied together forever. We have found ourselves in each other, and found our hearts in this strange and beautiful land, and found everything we’ve ever wanted to find, here in Israel.