This marks my third time in Israel.

As a 22-year-old Jewish girl, I still had never set foot here.  I had no idea this fact was surprising until a rabbi told me so. He also added that his children had been to Israel at least eight times—and they were four and six.  I stared at him, brows raised.  I suddenly felt as though I was in competition with a four-year-old—and I was losing.

Happily, I had plans to land in Israel before my 23rd birthday. I traveled there on a Taglit birthright trip through the Detroit Federation’s CommunityNEXT program. The trip consisted of participants from the Metro Detroit area (and one girl from Chicago who got stuck with all of us Detroiters). Like many other Jewish Federation’s across the country, the Detroit Federation has an Israeli partnership region.  The partnership program, called Partnership2Gether (P2G, previously known as Partnership 2000), is a platform of the Jewish Agency.  Partnership2Gether partners “global Jewish communities directly with Israeli communities—the majority of which are in national priority areas.” The Detroit Federation’s partnership region is the Central Galilee.  And rest assured, both Detroit and the Central Galilee take their partnership very seriously.  Because of Partnership2Gether, each of the eight Israeli participants on my birthright trip was from the Central Galilee.

Before I went on that trip to Israel for the first time, my mom (who at different points in her life has lived in Israel) said she hoped I loved the country and found it as special as she did.  She hoped I would feel a strong connection to the land.  She hoped I would connect with everything it represents.

I was excited. But I was coming off of the high of a long trip to Europe and all of the memories I had created there. I was smitten with the cobblestone streets of Paris, the gold façade of Vienna, and the fresh pastries that each new country offered.  And I wasn’t as open to discovering another area of the globe as I may have been under usual circumstances.

Despite my temporary snobbery and disregard for anything that was not European, I felt lucky to be included on a birthright trip and at the very least, expected a great trip.

When our El Al plane touched the ground in Israel after ten long hours of travel, I clapped in relief with the other passengers.  While, it could have been the lack of sleep, when I reached the land of the Jewish people for the first time, I felt suddenly emotional.

After an incredible trip that pushed me to the limits of adventure and exhaustion—and certainly to my emotional limit—I knew it would not be my last time in Israel.

A year later, after doing everything I possibly could to return, I found a research assistantship that paired well with my master’s degree program in public health at University of Michigan’s School of Public Health. The best news was that I had landed my internship in Israel. I worked as an epidemiological research assistant at Ha’Emek Medical Center of Afula, just a few minutes from Detroit’s partnership region.

I am now here in Israel again for my third helping of fresh hummus, chicken shawarma, limonana, and Israeli ice cafe. I guess I fell in love.