By Rivka A. Lubin

As we prepared to send Yussie off to Camp Mesorah for the next eight weeks, I received special words from my daughter Rivka, who is spending the summer in Israel:

As I sit in the air-conditioned office of my uncle’s winery (, I gaze out the window and think about how hot it is outside. Although the sun is beating down and it’s hard to go outside, I can’t help but think about my time here so far. It has been unbelievable. After all, I am in Israel. I am in Israel for the first time since I was 11 years old. I arrived here the afternoon of June 10. After a ten-hour flight that was delayed for almost two hours, I was so relieved to finally be walking around. And better yet, I was walking around in Israel. I did not spend a year here after finishing high school three years ago. I went straight to college while most of my friends went overseas. I never really knew how much this land meant to me until I came here. I never thought about how much it would affect me. I soon learned that I had more of a connection to the land than I originally thought. I started my adventure with Birthright.

What can I say about Birthright other than it was the most eye-opening experience I’ve ever had? I obsessed over this trip for weeks: what to pack, what to wear, what to buy, etc. I did not know anyone on my trip to begin with and I was nervous about that. But when I got to the airport and met everyone, I knew I had nothing to worry about. My group was an eclectic one, with many kinds of people coming from various religious backgrounds. It was interesting to see how different people are, but at the same time, very much alike.

How can a country be so small in size, but so huge in significance? I was amazed at how fast one could travel the entire country. We started out in the Golan Heights, all the way at the top of the map. We were standing just a few short miles away from the border of Israel and Lebanon. By the end of the trip we were in the south, near the Dead Sea. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves–there was so much in the middle.

I’d like to point out that we had the privilege of having an amazing tour guide, Yoni Lightstone (, lead the way. We hiked, we went rafting, we slept at various kibbutzim, and we learned so many important facts. Of course we also got some dreaded sunburns (at least I did–I’m terrible at putting on sunscreen). I was amazed at some of the places we went. For example, we went to the cave that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai had hidden in for years. I was shocked. I had heard the story so many times: about how a carob tree miraculously grew and provided all his food, and now I was standing right in that spot!

In the middle of the trip we had the honor of having seven Israeli soldiers join us. Here’s the crazy part: I am turning 21 this summer, and some of the soldiers were only 19! These soldiers were some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. The stories they told and the experiences they’d had were all so eye-opening. I am now friends with some of them on Facebook and I know I am going to keep in touch with them.

The Kotel: a place where people from all over come to pray and give thanks, to ask for things and to give praise. I didn’t think that I’d get emotional at the Kotel. I am not such a spiritual person in general and did not think that it would have such an impact on me. But when we got there to daven on Friday night, I immediately started to cry. When I saw the Kotel I realized that this was it–I was standing in front of G‑d and I had the special opportunity to say whatever I wanted. When I approached the Wall I was shaking. I started to daven, and as I did, the tears kept coming. And not in a sad kind of way, but rather in the sense of, “Oh my goodness, this is what I’m meant to do.” I’ve never had such an experience like that one. I am so thankful.

I was nervous about Masada, though. Let me put it this way–I am not a hiker . . . at all. I packed so many T-shirts and leggings and broke in my new sneakers, all in preparation for Masada. After sleeping in the Bedouin tents for the night (I mean not sleeping, really), we woke up at 3:45 a.m. and were on the bus by 4:15. We hiked up Masada and watched the sun rise from the top. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. And way worth the hike up, which actually wasn’t too difficult. We walked around for a while, and Yoni explained what we were looking at. So much history; I was amazed.

I think one of the things that I enjoyed the most out of the whole trip was the night we slept in the tents. Before we went to sleep, Yoni lined us up, single-file. There was around two feet of space between each of us. There were 36 people on our trip, so that’s a long line. Completely silent, we walked in the dark up a rocky hill. At the top, Yoni told us all to sit on the ground, far apart, and do nothing but look at the stars. We sat like that for about 20 minutes. For me, so much personal reflection was happening. I was looking at the stars and thinking about everything: my year in school, my life as a whole. It was so quiet, you heard nothing. That was amazing.

I’ve been saying that everything was amazing. Well, it was. At the end of the trip I was crying; I did not want it to end. After being dropped off at the train station in Tel Aviv, I got on a train to Be’er Sheva, where my uncle and cousins met me. We drove down to Sde Boker, where Ben-Gurion is buried. My cousin Adin was finishing his pre-army program there and we went to the ceremony. I am always in awe at how much service the teenagers do for their country in Israel.

After the ceremony was over, we drove all the way up north to my cousins’ home in Kibbutz Hanaton. That’s where I am now. I have been swimming, hanging out, helping out at the winery (which is very cool, by the way). I am here for another week and then I am starting a six-week internship in Jerusalem, working with kids and adults with special needs. That’s ten weeks in total that I am in Israel. I am so lucky that this is how I am spending my summer. My story isn’t over. I am very much looking forward to the rest of my time here in Hanaton and even more excited for my internship. I am taking this country by storm–and my journey is just beginning. v

Phyllis Joy Lubin is an attorney with Maidenbaum & Sternberg, LLP, who resides in Cedarhurst with her husband, Leonard. They have six children–Naftali, Shoshana, Rivka, Rochel, Yosef, and Lea–and a daughter-in-law, Nina. The author welcomes your questions and comments at

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