Something great about birthright is that sometimes you are surprised about what inspires you. Visiting the (underground what was it called), the secret weapons manufacturing during the time the British controlled the pre-Israeli state, really reached me in a way I never would have predicted. We heard fascinating stories about how the weapon manufacturing was kept a secret. They knew that there was a tremendous amount of noise to cover up, so they started a laundry business that would run all day. However, clothes would be picked up and dropped off so no one would come close to the site. It was such a successful business that even the British soldiers sent in their uniforms.
Meanwhile, underneath the raucous noise of the machine, there would be men and women diligently working. They were not in far away fields, as the “giraffes,” kibbutzim who, like giraffes, didn’t know what was happening below their feet, thought they were. So, the manufacturers installed a tanning room to appear like they work outside all day.
When a train explosion caused the death of British officers, the workers rushed to their aid so that they would not feel the need to explore the kibbutz and possibly find the underground factory. When a solider came by the kibbutz to personally thank them for their aid, they gave him a glass of warm beer. If he wanted a cold one, he would have to make sure he called in advance (so they would never be caught off guard again). The guide, Yaov, joked that since he was British, he would then call 5 days in advance, then 3 days, then the day before to confirm, and so on.
There were many more fascinating stories like these (like how the bullets they made were one millimeter too large, so the worker that had to shave off that extra bit was nicknamed the mohel), but what was most meaningful to me was that the bravery of the men and women manifested themselves in a way that was uniquely Jewish. The stories all had Jewish humor, spirit, creativity, and work ethic in order to accomplish a very righteous and serious goal. Also what was very important to me was the fact that in this effort the men and women were equal—women were appreciated for the time and risk they put into protecting their people. In return, I can appreciate and sincerely feel connected to the the dedication of Jews in a different time and place, with an inspiring mission and a uniquely Jewish way of protecting its people.
The last days of the trip were an emotional roller coaster as we started the day with an overview of the old city of Jerusalem and were formally welcomed to The heart of the Jewish people. We visited the old city and spent time praying, meditating and singing at the Western Wall.
We then spent a few hours in the Shuk, Macheneh Yehuda, tasting and smelling the amazing foods of the open air market and “grazing” our way through with our Israeli counterparts as our waiters and guides. Then in the afternoon we took a turn for the sadder as we visited Mt. Herzel, The national cemetery for leaders of the nation and fallen soldiers. We listened as our Soldier friends told stories of fallen friends and family members. We heard how each and every person had to fight for this land in one way or another and that they felt that as hard as it was, they had no choice because this was their (and our) home land.
The following day we visited Yad Vashem, the memorial and museum of the holocaust. An experience that can only be truly understood through a visit on your own, but be it enough to say that emotions ranged from disgust, to tears, to fear and then to hope as we walked out on to the balcony at the end of the museum overlooking the hills of Jerusalem’s forests.
We then proceeded to the garden of roses to reflect on all that we had seen and officially say good bye to our soldiers. A day of emotions and tears both of happiness and sadness, but a true reflection of this amazing country, a wonderful people, and a fantastic trip.