Stacey Davidson has traveled to Israel twice before, but her third scheduled trip, with Taglit-Birthright Israel, May 21-31, has her truly excited. “It’s great when you go with your family for the first time,” Stacey recalled recently, from her dormitory room at James Madison University, in Harrisonburg, Virginia. “But going with people your own age, and having a trip designed for us should be amazing.” Stacey, a member of Congregation Olam Tikvah in Fairfax, Virginia, since last August when her family relocated to the area, first traveled to Israel for her bat mitzvah and again three years later for her sister’s.
“When we went over the first time, I was only 13 and I think my Dad was more excited than I was. I really didn’t know what to expect, but I had a lot of fun anyway,” says the freshman psychology major. “My sister’s bat mitzvah was fun too because I didn’t have the pressure of reading at Robinson’s arch and my grandparents were with us. We also had a private tour guide for part of the time, so the trip was really unique to us. And being in Israel during Hanakkah was great,” the 18 year-old Connecticut native recalls.
“But my camp friends (Tranquillity Camp, Earlton, New York), are going this time,” she continues, “and being able to share our experiences will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” Stacey says that her favorite part of the prior two trips was visiting the markets and shops of the Old City of Jerusalem. She and her sister, Phoebe, enjoyed the Dead Sea as well, but carry some faded scars as a reminder of the unforgiving path and shoreline of the famous salty body of water. “We got all cut up. Our feet and legs were a mess,” she says now, recalling the stinging jabs.
But Stacey knows that Birthright is a special opportunity to travel with her friends and perhaps make new ones. One camp friend, in particular, has never been to Israel, while another has been there many times. “The ability to share this trip with my friends has us so excited. My friend’s mom cried when her passport came in the mail because she is so happy for us,” says Stacey. Additionally, Stacey is anticipating experiencing other aspects of Israeli life to which she had not been exposed on her prior journeys. Birthright typically spends time with IDF soldiers, many of whom are college-aged people. “These kids are my age,” Stacey observes, “but they are asked to protect their homeland. If they were here, they could be sitting next to me in class. But because they are there, they are carrying rifles,” she says, adding that she could never imagine serving in the military.
Although Stacey and her friends don’t consider themselves “very observant,” they share the experiences of their Jewish-themed summer camp outside Albany, New York, and a love of Israel. “It’s going to be a great trip. I can’t wait, I just have to get through the rest of the semester first, then I can allow myself to really excited,” she says. “Right now, it’s just fun watching my friends and their families get so pumped up for us.”