Guest blogger Omer Hacohen was one of eight soldiers who joined Taglit-Birthright Israel: Hillel trip bus 1058 in January 2013. Omer and her fellow soldiers were part of a Mifgash (Hebrew for encounter), which occurs on every Taglit-Birthright Israel: Hillel trip. The Mifgash soldiers join a bus as participants for at least five days of each trip in order for the U.S. students to get to know some Israeli peers personally.
Pictured: Omer Hacohen, on right, shares a camel ride with a friend on their Taglit-Birthright Israel: Hillel trip.
My name is Omer Hacohen and I'm an Israeli soldier.
I am 20 years old and have been living in Tel Aviv my whole life. I'm going to be released from the Army in about a week, and just two weeks ago, I had the most amazing experience of my entire life.
Since the moment I was drafted, I knew I wanted to be on a Taglit-Birthright Israel: Hillel trip, not only for the trip itself, but for the adventure of meeting a new group of people that weren't even from Israel. I insisted on going, and finally got in. I was so thrilled! I thought it would be really fun and wanted to take a break from everything.
The moment I stepped on that bus, I knew: something amazing has just begun. The Americans clapped and cheered for each of us (we were eight soldiers), and we immediately blended in the group. The next five days were all about getting to know each other, our shared Jewish heritage and Israel.
Although I have lived in Israel almost all my life, with the exception of a little two-year break in Tulsa, OK, I rediscovered my country and my Judaism.
For the first time in my life, I actually felt like part of something, of a group, of a trip that was more than just a trip. The Taglit-Birthright Israel: Hillel trip gave me the power to be who I am and to shine for five days. I cannot even explain what a spiritual adventure this was for me. At the end of those five days, I felt like the people I had only just met were my best friends, that they knew me so well. We still keep in touch every day.
I came to Taglit-Birthright Israel thinking, “I am so different from these Americans! They don't know what it's like to live in a country that has so many controversies, to be a soldier in the army, and to be an Israeli.” But I don’t think that anymore. It's true we weren't raised the same or lived the same lives, but we have so much in common that we can get through the barriers- with Skype!
When we got to the Western Wall, I thanked whoever was out there that let me have this life-changing trip.
I still feel the same way and I would recommend this to anyone who ever wanted to feel special- even for just five days.