I flew from San Diego to Dallas to London and finally to Israel. I could not wait for this day to arrive. However, what occurred when I did finally make it to Ben Gurion Airport was more than I could have hoped for.
The excitement did not start until I reached London’s Heathrow Airport for a layover. In LHR, I was on board the plane with a massive group of Hasidic Jews who were also coming to Israel. Even though this is something small, back at home I feel as if I’m one of the only Jews. I live in a small surfer town 20 minutes outside of San Diego. In this moment, I could not help but feel proud to be Jewish. I also could not help feeling giddy from the fact that I could hear families around me speaking in Hebrew.
Once I finally arrived at the airport, my aunt and uncle were waiting for me at the exit. This was the first time I had seen them since my bar mitzvah, or my brother’s, I’m not sure. I could not help but laugh from the fact that not only did they greet me with hugs but also with food. I was more than thankful because I forgot to order gluten-free meals for my flights and was quite hungry. While I was chowing down on the food my aunt brought, it drew the attention of an off-leash Pomeranian who did every trick in the book to also get some food.
Slightly before getting to see my family, however, I had to stand in a long line for a COVID-19 test with all the other people arriving in Israel. Once it was my turn to get a COVID test, the gentleman who started to swab my nostrils told me, “You don’t seem excited, what’s wrong? You should be excited because you are home.” In my defense, I don’t like having strangers poking my face with a cotton swab. But talk about building up the romanticism surrounding Israel. That being said, I was more than willing to indulge myself in the thought of being home.
After visiting with my family, I caught a bus full of very friendly Onward Israel students, which dropped me off by the Gordon Inn Hotel to start quarantine, which I was stoked to see was full of other Onward kids. For some reason, I thought there was only going to be around 20 or so of us on Onward Israel. There are around 70 in this hotel alone. Needless to say, I found myself playing lots of Jewish geography in the halls and stairways of the hotel. And constantly asking the questions, “What’s your name and what’s your major?” to every new face I came across.
Also, on the note of being in a “dangerous state,” I felt safer at the airport and on the bus here than at the airport in Boston, which is surrounded by people asking for money. From what I can tell, everybody is just going about their normal daily lives. The bike paths are full of people wearing helmets, the highways are bumper to bumper with Israelis yelling in Hebrew. The energy of the city is something I can’t wait to experience.
To sum it up, I’m very happy to be here. And if you asked anybody else in the program, they’d certainly say the same thing. I have a feeling that this is going to be a good summer. We just need to get out of quarantine first.
James Mills, Northeastern University ’24, is an international business major interning this summer at the eToro cryptocurrency trading platform through the Boston Onward Israel program. James’s great-great-great uncle is Theodore Herzl. 125 students from schools across Massachusetts have professional internships in their fields of interest in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa this summer. Visit onwardboston.com for more info.