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Taglit Birthright’s Israel trip life-changing experience for KU student

Boker tov, Kansas City!

The average person lives for about 27,375 days. I am only 18 and I have already had the 10 best days of my life. It sort of seems a little crazy. Now you are probably curious as to what made these 10 days the best, right? Well I can make it simple for you, it is called Birthright. Birthright, or Taglit in Hebrew, is a 10-day trip to Israel for Jewish teens. I went on this trip with KU Hillel in early January and returned feeling like a totally new person. I know it all sounds so cliché, but hear me out.

You become a different person after climbing Masada. You become a different person after floating in the Dead Sea. You become a different person after eating falafel and schwarma for 10 days in a row. And you most definitely become a different person after visiting the Western Wall. I just did all of these things on my trip. So, if all of these things make me such a different person, then there is absolutely no way that I am the same person that I was before going to Israel. I am different now and I love it.

Israel taught me to be open to new things. Israel taught me to make friends even when I thought I already have enough. Israel taught me to eat foreign foods and enjoy them. Israel taught me to do things that I would never do at home. Let Israel change you like it did me.

I have never been so affected by something like this in my entire life. I look at the whole world differently now, in a good way. I have 46 new best friends, I have eaten spicy schwarma and burned my lips off, my skin has cringed from all the salt in the Dead Sea, and I have had one of the most impactful experiences of my life.

On one of the first nights of the trip we were each asked what we wanted to get out of being in Israel. My response was that I wanted to cry while I was there. It seems strange, so let me clarify. I am not an emotional person, but I wanted something we were going to do or see in Israel to make me emotional. Nothing got to me and I sort of felt guilty about it.

I have had some time to reflect since we got back and I have come to realize that I did not mean emotional like tears streaming down my face. I think what I meant was that I wanted to feel touched by Israel. I wanted to feel inspired and rejuvenated and I am glad to say that I have accomplished that. It was a new type of emotional experience for me and I would not change it for the world.

While in Israel, Rabbi Neal Schuster, who was one of our group leaders, talked about how participating in Shabbat does not necessarily mean that a person must attend services, all someone has to do is acknowledge it. Light a candle, have some challah at dinner, or say the Shema before bed. What the rabbi said made me recognize how easy it can be to celebrate Shabbat and I look at Judaism differently now because of that.

I am having major Birthright withdrawals because Israel really did change me. I know I will go back and meet again with the Holy Land — I can hardly wait. I know that when I get there, everything will be — as they say in Israel — sababa (everything is all good).

Rebeka Luttinger is a freshman at the University of Kansas majoring in journalism.