Not even on the High Holidays have I been surrounded by so many of my fellow Jews. At the Taglit-Birthright Israel Mega-Event, thousands of young Jews from around the world joined together to celebrate the gift of Birthright. There were Taglit-Birthright Israel hats, t-shirts and even face painting (I got a blue Star of David by each eye. I looked awesome!). Jews from Brazil, Uruguay, Germany, Russia and more danced, and waved their various flags while Israeli stars performed, Prime minister of Israel, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu spoke, and streamers fell from above.

I had no idea the night was going to be as incredible as it was. After spending the day in Israel’s worst rain storm in decades, I just wanted to take my freezing fingers, soaking wet shoes and dripping pants back to a nice warm hotel. However, our group leaders insisted the Mega-Event, produced by one of their friends, Ronen Peled Hadad, was not to be missed. Boy were they right.

Netanyahu welcomed us and spoke about the creation of Taglit-Birthright Israel. He said it all started because Michael Steinhardt came to him with the “meshuga” idea that all Jews should get to travel to Israel… for free. Lucky for us, Netanyahu said he was “meshuga” enough to agree. He stressed that Jews of the world do so much for Israel, and that it was time they thought about what Israel could do for the Jews of the world.

The singers and dancers were amazing. Sarit Hadad sang some of her most popular music. We all sang along with the lyrics on the screen. Our Israeli soldiers and students (who surprised us by coming back to join us for the event!) laughed at my pitiful attempt at singing in Hebrew. I guess my Cleveland accent isn’t as pretty as I thought it was. Oh well…

The Taglit-Birthright Israel Mega-Event was one of the highlights of my trip to Israel. It was amazing to see so many Jews, after having been scattered all over the world due to wars and hatred, back together again in our holy land. On that night, we sang and danced together as one people. We all got to enjoy our religion and culture in a state of our own. Now I understand why as I stepped off the plane in Tel Aviv I was told by our group leader “Welcome home.”

-Laurel Gans
Author of Waitlisted (Etopia Press, 2011)