The American participants on Taglit-Birthright Israel: Mayanot trips are joined for a part of the ten day experience by young Israeli, usually from the IDF. I join one such trip this week.

Before joining the Taglit-Birthright Israel: Mayanot Newsroom to Newsroom trip, I had certain expectations. I knew I wanted to teach the group about our lives here in Israel. I hoped that after the trip, they would have a better understanding of our culture and share our love for Israel. I never imagined I would gain something more.

In America, it is expected that a child will leave home, usually for college, at the age of eighteen. Here in Israel, it is mandatory for all citizens to serve three years in the military after high school. The time in service is expected and accepted. Nobody thinks twice about it.

For the first time I saw Israel through the eyes of a foreigner. My time in the service sparked the Americans’ curiosity. They asked me questions like “are you really serving for three years?”, “do you have to wear the uniform all the time?”, ” do you always carry guns with you?”. From these questions and from seeing their tears at exciting moments, I started to appreciate the things I am doing for my country and they inspire me to continue to work even harder.

There was a time in which we were divided into groups and had a conversation about the day. I had an argument with another soldier about how to help Israel and the Jewish identity to survive. He said that Jews should be in one geographical place which is israel.

I disagreed. For me, it’s important for Jewish people to live all over the world. In that way, they can influence other people from different countries and share our story. I have no doubt that leads to more support for Israel.

In conclusion, I believe this tour has positive effects on the both the American participant and also the Israelis who join them–it made me feel stronger about serving in the army. I also want to strengthen Jews living in other countries, since they help support Israel, and they need to be proud.

-Idan Shapira

Special thanks to Stephanie and Laurel Gans and Ted Goldberg