This piece was submitted by CAMERA 2014 Israel Trip participant, Marta Slobodyanyuk, as part of our Witnesses of History campaign. Marta is a student activist with CAMERA’s CCAP group at the University of Minnesota, Students Supporting Israel.
The plane readied itself for arrival. I remember that feeling in my stomach. It was the feeling you get when you are nervous, because you don’t know what to expect, but it is also that feeling you get when you can no longer hold in your excitement. I knew that I was about to land into the place that I already love, but I’ve yet to explore. This would be my first experience here and the only thing that I could think to myself is that I already don’t want to leave. As I got off of the plane I immediately saw the 15 letters written in bright blue, right below the ceiling, “Welcome to Israel.” Suddenly, a blanket of goose bumps covered my whole body, and I felt that I’m home.
This was my highest point in Israel, because I finally experienced the true feeling of what it means to be at home. Throughout the following six weeks of my stay in Israel, I truly experienced an adventure of a lifetime. Once my first trip had completed, my heart was full of love and happiness. I had never felt such emotions before and never knew that I had the ability to, but Israel just does that to you.
Like any other of my days in Israel, I woke up, had some coffee, and turned on the news, but this day was different. All of a sudden there was breaking news that the night before three boys had been kidnapped and that the acts were most likely done by Hamas. This was the third time I had experienced a full body goose bumps effect and they weren’t the good kind. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I immediately thought to myself that this cannot be true, that this isn’t true, and that if this is true, are the boys going to be okay. Instantly, the campaign of “Bring Back Our Boys” had launched, and the search was on. The only thing I could really feel during all of this, was that if felt as if they were my family. Every day I would have the same morning routine to check if the boys had been found. Eventually, the CAMERA Israel trip had begun. We were learning, exploring, having fun, and most importantly, getting the Israel experience. On the second to last night, we were on our way to an extravagant meal when all of a sudden breaking news had filled the bus speakers and in Hebrew a reporter had said, “New reports about the boys and their whereabouts in thirty minutes.” Our whole bus had gotten quiet. We didn’t know whether to be optimistic or begin to mourn. As we entered the restaurant, somber silence occupied the room as the news was on a television right next to our tables. Although I couldn’t exactly read what was on the screen, I had understood that the boys have been found, and that they were not alive.
Instantly, a breath taking emotion filled my heart and mind. Not the kind of breath taking when you are standing at the top of Masada, but the kind that literally makes it hard for you to breathe. Tears were filling my eyes and nausea was overtaking my body. I felt as if I had just lost three brothers that I never knew. I went outside of the restaurant and couldn’t help but see the huge Israeli flag waving in the brisk wind through the silent country. I could feel the country go into mourning right in that moment, but the flag kept strong and wouldn’t let down. I don’t know if this was a sign or just a coincidence, but to this day I almost felt as if Eyal, Naftali, and Gil-ad were there, looking over us and letting us know that everything will be okay.
On our last day of the CAMERA trip, we were to visit Tzfat, Herziliya, and then to the Ben Gurion Airport. The mood was dull all day, and I was occupied with anxiety. It was as if you could almost feel the tension in the country, and at that point, I understood that there is no turning back and Israel will send a message to Hamas.
Getting back to America was very tough. My plane ride back was filled of nothing but loneliness and sadness. I felt as if I had left a part of myself back in Israel and that I will never get it back because that is where it is meant to be. Once I got back to America, already on the news were reports about rockets flying into southern Israel from Gaza, and speculations of what the strong, indestructible; nation of Israel will do in reaction. From past experiences, I already knew what would happen, but I didn’t imagine for ‘Operation Defensive Edge’ to be so long and exhausting for the people of Israel and the supporters of Israel. Not only did we end up losing three young boys, but we also had to suffer the loss of young and heroic IDF soldiers.
To experience so much emotion while in Israel, I fell in love with the nation and its people. I feel like I was not only a witness of history, but I really witnessed what it was like to be part of a community that truly cares about one another. I strongly believe that you cannot experience that connection in any other country in the world. People care for, love, and treat one another like family. People don’t take life for granted in Israel, and I think that is a lesson to be learned for all people throughout the world. I witnessed a nation that puts others before themselves and it truly gives me hope that one day the whole nation of Israel will have harmony or as they say in Hebrew, ‘Tikkun Olam.’