I’ve been to Israel before, but not like this. Rifling through the different papers I needed to check into my flight, to find out that I had to additionally pull up some email confirmation on my phone was stressful, to say the least. However, following a combined 11 hours of flying (with a brief stop in Frankfurt), I arrived in Israel for my fourth time. Not flying with an organized group, I clung onto people with whom I had had a few brief interactions, for we were in the same situation. Finally, after a couple hours of sitting in Ben-Gurion Airport, watching the time pass slowly on my phone, me and someone I’d flown with made our way to a group of people on the same program. Other than a friend I’d made on a previous trip to Israel, I didn’t know any of the 20 people on the Onward Israel Boston Jerusalem program. And looking back, I certainly didn’t realize that these complete strangers would become my good friends within the first week of our two-month stay.

Ethan Keller
(Photo: Ethan Keller)
Unsurprisingly, the best way to bond is through shared experiences, the first of such taking place in the hotel lobby the first night we were in Israel. You see, our blood had to be drawn to prove that all of us were vaccinated against COVID-19, something that would shorten our mandatory quarantine period from two weeks to a day. Some were brave and didn’t flinch when the medic inserted the needle, blood flowing into the vial. Others looked away in horror, only bearing the experience knowing the joy that waited for them on the other side. It happened to be a unique experience for me, with the medic looking at me and a smirk drew on his face while he said, “You know, your blood is a nice color. I might have to keep some for myself.”
I share these moderately explicit details not to gross you out; that wouldn’t be very nice of me. I share this one story because as we sat on the hotel lobby floor, making sure we didn’t pass out, our connections to each other started to form. I don’t think we really knew it at the time, but after a week of exploring the Old City, figuring out the public transport and, of course, eating the best food the Middle East has to offer, our friendships began as soon as we met.
Ethan Keller, Clark University ’22, is a political science major interning at The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development in Jerusalem through the Boston Onward Israel program. 125 students from schools across Massachusetts have professional internships in their fields of interest in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa.

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