My parents had traveled to Israel shortly after they were married. My mom even says they chose my sisters name after seeing a young child with her namesake running around the market.

Our home wasn’t religious but one that was rich with tradition. My mother cooked for most, if not all, holidays. We were active members of our Hebrew school and participated in the after school program. My parents informed my sister and I that we would be sharing our bat mitzvah in the land of Israel. We were all very excited.

We choose Masada for the ceremony. My parents chose a tour with two other families, strangers. Each family had a very different dynamic. My family was three girls, two bat mitzvah girls and my younger sister along with my mom and dad. Another family was 2 children, one male (the bar mitzvah boy) one female and their parents. And the third family was a mother step-father and daughter.

We arrived on Passover and before the tour began we had a Seder in the hotel. It was a completely different experience. The tour was exciting and amazing.

Similar to my Birthright trip with Mayanot years later, we covered a large amount of the country in a short amount of time. I remember placing my note in the wall. We went to the kibbutz with the underground bullet factory, I have been fortunate to return there on one of my Mayanot trips. We learned the history of our home and fell in love with the culture. In the markets and shops everyone was so friendly and willing to give directions. Our tour guide knew everything you could possibly want to know. She was so sweet and spoke of her family and by the end it felt as if she had become apart of ours.

The day of our bat mitzvah came and we went to the top of the mountain; taking the cable car to save time. The four b’nay mitzvah children read their respective parts from the Torah. The parents were overjoyed and we celebrated. It was truly a day to remember.

That first trip to Israel gave me a love for my homeland. When we returned to the states our temple gave me my bat mitzvah gifts; they told us about going to Israel when we turned 18. Around that time, I applied to come to Israel with Mayanot. When I heard that I had been accepted on a trip, I knew I would be returning home!