For those of us who are the chosen people or simply put the “ish” in Jewish, we get this amazing opportunity to take an all-expenses-paid, 10-14 day tour/vacation of the holy land before we turn 27, also known as Birthright. Over the holidays this year, all the stars aligned; my best friend from high school (also Jewish), and my sister (also Jewish and just about to turn 27), were all able to get our ducks in a row to take 14 days out of our “busy” schedules to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My buddy did most of the heavy lifting in terms of picking the exact trip that we were going to go on, so my sister and I were essentially just along for the ride. Without really knowing what I was going to be doing or getting myself into, I had next to zero expectation about what I would see, do, and learn while I was there. For the TL;DR version: I saw lots of sand and old buildings, did lots of hiking, boozing, and riding a bus, and learned lots of… “interesting” things about myself, many of which are listed below.
I am a terrible photographer
Before my sister and I left for Israel, my mom had two very “mom” concerns: 1) We would do something stupid or get caught up in some situation that would lead to our eminent demise/enlisting in the Israeli military; or 2) We wouldn’t take pictures for her. While I’m happy to say that I am safely back home pretending to work (therefore not dead or in the IDF), I cannot say that I eased her mind on her second concern. Of the hundreds of pictures that I took, I would say that 25% have my finger over part of the screen, 25% are either blurry or have weird shadows that make them unusable, and 25% are inappropriate. The remaining pictures are mostly all landscapes with neither my sister nor myself in them. #ShotOnAnIPhone
I contain a massive amount of immaturity throughout my everyday, normal life
Honestly, I thought that I was going to leave Israel with some sort of deeper understanding of myself and hopefully at least a little more mature of a person. But there was something about being trapped on a bus with 40 other same-aged people with similar interests that quickly brought out my latent, raging immaturity. I don’t think I’ve ever made or laughed at so many “liquor… I hardly know her” jokes in my life. (We realized it was getting out of hand when it started to transition to “cucumber… I hardly know her,” but that didn’t stop us.) It took me a little time to realize why all of these jokes were suddenly so funny, and then it finally dawned on me that between having to be somewhat dignified at work and around
a huge fun sponge my girlfriend, I never get the chance to make all the terrible jokes that come into my mind. On a positive note, I learned enough useful Hebrew that if anyone wants a 50/50 shot of getting laid or punched in the balls by an Israeli girl, let me know
I really know nothing useful that doesn’t involve my job
Because Israelis think that a 3 hour drive is very long and requires two or three bathroom stops, we decided on our bus that we would entertain ourselves on these rides by giving “Ted Talks” about things that (we think) we know a lot about. While some people shared some pretty interesting things like the role of ancient Chinese medicine in today’s modern hospitals or why passenger planes can’t fly high, I sat there wracking my brain, trying to think of something useful that I could share. Nobody would want to here about the pretty mundane facts about the research that I do, and I really did not want to show off how nerdy I was by reciting the history of Westeros or why Emperor Snoke is Darth Plaguesis or the huge similarities between the Dune and Lord of the Rings universes. In the end, I settled on everybody’s least favorite subject (and the one I unfortunately probably know the most about) – running. I talked; people slept.
I am a huge square
I don’t know if it was because I grew up in suburban Massachusetts or went to undergrad in the Midwest or that I really can’t stand spicy foods, but holy cow, am I a square. As we quickly learned every fun fact and detail about each other, I just kind of sat there in awe, both at how much it seemed like everybody else did and how unexciting my own life was. People on this trip had hiked Kilimanjaro or live in a van in Hawaii or went to the Peace Corps in Panama or manage air traffic systems for unmanned aircraft. I have no complaints about how borderline boring my life is because, honestly, I very much enjoy having a relatively low-key life with few surprises, but it never dawned on me that I was the one square traveling in a bus full circles. But hey, better a square in a room full of circles than a circle in a room full of spheres (I don’t really know what that means, but patent pending on that phrase).
I am not that important to my office and coworkers
When I left for Israel, I gave my office a 50/50 shot of functioning when I got back, and I gave my research lab even lower odds. As much as I would like to think that my lab and office would turn into some malfunctioning combination of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant from the Simpsons and the Texans front office during the Osweiler signing, the office was running smoothly and the lab was fully intact and running when I showed up after my two and a half week Jewish vacation. I was actually a little disappointed that my work was no worse for the wear when I got back. And if I’m being honest, I’m 90% sure that my boss didn’t even know that I was a couple thousand miles away for a couple weeks. But hey, at least it now gives me more time to write mediocre semi-satire pieces for the adult version of TFM in the hopes that being a “professional writer” helps me get laid. C’est la vie..