I’m not what you might call a “good traveler.” Some people are comfortable jet setting all over the world, eager to break their routines and tackle whatever associated misadventures may come their way. I am not one of these people. So when I boarded a plane for a 12-hour flight two weeks ago to sit in a claustrophobic flying tunnel full of coughing strangers and suspicious food served at weird times, it was no surprise to me that my initial excitement gradually gave way to exhaustion and annoyance.

However, my plane was headed to Israel, a place my post-Birthright-eligible self had never visited. So in some ways, my journey around the world brought me to my homeland. In other ways, it brought me to a land of stray cats that smelled vaguely of za’atar spices. But more on that later.

I spent the past 10 days traveling across Israel with 26 other adults from the St. Louis area on a community tour organized by my synagogue. We saw all the usual tourist spots: Masada, the Dead Sea, the Old City and Western Wall, Ben Yehuda Street, Safed, Golan Heights, Tel Aviv, etc. We ate huge breakfasts along with lots of falafel, eggplant, pita and hummus. We bought tchotchkes and fell asleep on bus rides and talked to locals. These activities were all enjoyable, educational and somewhat anticipated before the trip.

What I didn’t expect was how the trip affected my view of the world; suddenly, what was previously a foreign country on the other side of the globe felt like a familiar place full of happy, thriving human beings who were just like me. We joke about Jewish geography all the time, but I can now play the game worldwide. People on our trip ran into other people they knew in Israel as though they had bumped into them at the grocery store down the block. Everyone on our trip knew a friend or relative who had made Aliyah. Strangers shouted “shalom” and thanked us for visiting during a tumultuous time. We engaged in a lively sing-along of familiar Hebrew songs with a group of Jewish French tourists at our hotel during Shabbat dinner, just hours before their home country was to become ground zero for a terrorist attack.

All of these experiences made me aware of the world’s smallness, and these are the types of realizations I couldn’t necessarily expect, read about or adequately feel from a Disney World ride with an annoying song. I had to feel it myself by visiting a different place. The more I think about this, the more I realize we are all just humans trying to get along in the world. And this feeling is especially potent in light of heightened terrorist attacks and threats around the globe.

Anyway, tune in next week for more insights on the holy land, jet lag woes and what this all has to do with dating.

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