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J Street’s own Regional Assistant out of San Francisco, Kyle Fradkin, is in Israel on Birthright. Here is the first of his dispatches, exclusively for the J Street Blog:
As I write this post, Jerusalem is currently in the streets celebrating the eve of Yom HaAtzmaut, Israeli Independence Day.
I find myself in Jerusalem on such a special day because I am finally making my first pilgrimage to Israel. I’m there, as so many of those my age get to be, as a birthright participant.
The scene of celebration on the famous Ben yehuda street was one I will never forget, because it reminds me of the Israel that I cherish in my heart. So many Israelis, young and old, religious and secular celebrating together what we all love about the Jewish homeland.
However, this scene sits in stark contrast to how I felt earlier that day, when Israel was commemorating Yom HaZikron, Israeli Memorial Day. It was an equally unforgettable scene as the clock struck 11 and an entire country stopped in tracks to listen to the siren commemorating those who lost their lives to the conflict. What made it more unforgettable was that I was not in Jerusalem for this somber occasion, but rather at Gamla Nature Reserve located in the Golan Heights.
Earlier that day, our group hiked to Gamla Falls to the soundtrack of tanks shooting practice rounds at the nearby military base. While we were remembering the fallen, the continued sounds of the conflict were inescapable.
After the ceremony, our group drove to Mt. Bental, with its famous bunker and overlook into neighboring Syria. We witnessed Israel’s precarious security situation firsthand overlooking the the incredible vistas.
It is so often said that Israel is a study in contrasts, from joyous unbridled celebration to brutal reminders of the conflict and its controversies, but my last 24 hours within its borders truly demonstrated this fact more than any written word could ever do.
Kyle Fradkin is a Northwest Regional Associate at J Street. He’s on Twitter at @mrfradkin