by Judah Schvimer
This winter I had the privilege of going on a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip with Ramah. On the trip were 40 Ramahniks from nearly every camp, all at different stages of their college experiences. Before even getting through airport security, Jewish geography began and we realized the amazing connections Ramah has given us. This shared background helped bond our group together instantly. We began in the North, seeing the lush green of the Golan and celebrating the end of Chanukah at the home of one of the Israeli soldiers that was with us on the trip. We then spent Shabbat in Jerusalem before seeing the desert from Masada and the Dead Sea. We finished by experiencing modern Israeli life in Tel Aviv. For me the highlight of the trip came on Friday night. Kabbalat Shabbat is my favorite part of the week, and davening at the Kotel (the Western Wall) with 40 other Ramahniks who shared a similar love for Judaism was unforgettable. There was so much ruach (energy). We even broke out in spontaneous dancing at one point.
I initially was going to go on Birthright with my Hillel, but after thinking about it I realized that Ramah was a better choice. Before my senior year of high school I participated in Ramah Israel Seminar, and though I was worried that this would be a repeat of the same trip, there was no need. Everything we discussed was done at a college level, rather than a high school one. Four and a half years later I was much more prepared to grapple with the difficult questions at the heart of Israeli society that were often glossed over previously.
There is a special bond between Ramahniks, and the friends I made on this trip were what made it so special. Everyone, even those who have never been to Israel before, came in with a common knowledge about Israel and Judaism. This allowed for deeper conversations than those possible on other trips. Going with Ramah also created a much more religiously fulfilling experience: we did Shacharit (morning prayer) on Masada, Kabbalat Shabbat at the Kotel, and shared our love of Israel through a Jewish lens. Ramah has made me the Jew I am today. Having this intense Jewish experience would not have been the same with anyone else.
Judah Schvimer is a student at Brown University.