The truth about Israel is that they are just ordinary people living in extraordinary places. For an American, I was scared to go there. I saw on the news the conflicts that occurred in the State of Israel and it wasn't tickling my fancy that I might have to face these issues when there.
The first few days were a scramble trying to get accustomed to the time change, technology difficulties and the power outlets. It was very western hemisphere of me to miss my phone more than wanting to watch a sunset on the Mediterranean Sea the first night. I felt like my left leg had been cut off when I couldn't call my mom to let her know that, indeed, I was alive. I slept miserably the first few nights because I felt like a drug addict going through rehab cold turkey. Then, I felt the power of Israel leap inside me like a small leprechaun trying to spread his lucky charms. Without my phone and a good Internet connection, my other senses began to expand their role and kick in. I smelled the salt from the sea. I could hear the hustle of Tel Aviv trying to become recognized as a dominant world city. I felt the rocks and pathways that Jesus, and millions of others walked on before me. Most importantly, I was experiencing all of this with my teammates and coaches. It was almost surreal. All 19 of us were on the same page because everyone was familiarizing themselves with the same viewpoint.
There has been a negative image written about Israel in many media outlets. Slap me on the wrist for judging a book by its cover. For 10 days, it was Toledo Women's Basketball team's home and home treated us well. Naama (Shafir) and her homeland welcomed all of us with open arms. In fact, Naama welcomed us right into her very own home. Voted on by most, the meal that was made by her mom and family treated our stomachs and appetites the best. The real Israeli cuisine was the staple to how relationships can be created. Even though half the people at Naama's that night didn't speak a lick of English, we were all brought together over a good meal and a common theme of sharing a person we care deeply about.
Taking a bus around Israel was the best way to see everything that the country had to offer. Packed into 10 days, we were able to do things that would take early settlers seven years to experience if it were 2,000 years ago. In one day alone, we took a cable car to the top of Masada, found ourselves floating in the Dead Sea, rode double on the backs of camels and walked the beach at night in Tel Aviv. Or when we were in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, we saw where Jesus was born, where he walked as he carried the cross, where he was crucified and the rock where he was laid to rest. As a Christian, there isn't a more powerful feeling than touching these places or seeing the blood on the rock where his crucifixion occurred. My goose bumps were amplified when I saw the emotions of my teammates and the chills they felt when seeing the same things.
The game of basketball brought together a group of people because of the sport itself. The trip to Israel brought together a group of people because the emotions, similarities and memories are strong enough to further polish the family that we really are. Naama and I may not pray to the same God, but along the way, someone up there used their power to make sure we crossed paths. Even though we are polar opposites, and when I say opposites, I mean I'm the Lady Gaga to her Celine Dion, we still breathe and live a life full of opportunities because of the people before us. Naama not only brought together a team for 10 days, she brought together two countries that did not have a complete understanding of each other.
I was very fortunate to eat a Chipotle burrito upon my arrival back to Toledo. I was more appreciative of being able to reflect back on a trip that will not only change our team dynamics, but will change our lives. At the end of the day, when the balls are put away, we bonded beyond a basketball court. We won our two games in Israel, but more importantly, we won at strengthening our relationship with the people that we directly interact with daily.
I'm now going to use my God-given right and go eat a juicy Wendy's burger and sip down a nice cold Sonic slush. I love Israel now like I love myself, and that is a lot. All I can hope for is that Israel loves me in return, which they should considering the amount of shekels I spent there to help their economy. God Bless pita bread, hummus, and you.
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