Confessions of a retired birthright counselor

     Facebook has this fun new shtick where you can see what your Facebook activity consisted of on that day of each year since you joined the network. It's a kind of "This is your life," for the new millennium- a scarily accurate analogy for people who "live" on Facebook. Anyway, this week I noticed that one year ago that day I left for my final Birthright trip. For those of you who don't know (which is basically only people who've never met me, so- welcome!) I have staffed A LOT of Taglit-Birthright trips. Twelve, to be exact. So many times that the powers that be honored that milestone with a little certificate and it was SO cute and  basically, I loved every trip. 
Heading into my final Birthright trip

         Why am I bringing this up now in this blog post? The reasons are twofold- first, I am currently working in the Old City and making many trips down to the Western Wall. When I make these pilgrimages on a Friday evening (or any day, really) I am inundated with hundreds of young, excited Americans who are here for (usually) the first time on Birthright. It warms my heart to see them writing their notes, singing whatever Jewish songs they know and taking "Kotel Selfies" with their friends as they experience the moving power of the Wall. I stand there and watch the boys putting on tefillin, often for the first time ever, and the girls draped in their shawls and maxi dresses, touching their fingers to the stones. I hear the conversations between them (I'm not eavesdropping, they're loud!) where they wonder who felt what, who cried, and how it all was. Every time I see a group I am transported to the many times I took my own groups to see the Wall for the first time, and the questions they would ask me. I mean, sure, them being there makes it take an extra 13 minutes to get into the Kotel Plaza and I have to dodge a million group photos, but seeing a fellow Jew make a lifelong Jewish memory is totally worth it.
       The second reason I bring Birthright up is because it reminds me about both how time goes so fast and so slowly simultaneously. Was it only twelve months ago that I still lived in NYC, was still a speech therapist at a public school in Queens, still celebrated shabbat and holidays with my immediate family and close friends? And here it is, just a year later, and basically nothing is the same. Not only do I not live in NYC, not only do I no longer practice speech therapy, but I have lived livessince then! I have made aliyah, done a full ulpan, found an apartment, found a job, made new friends, been back to visit NYC -all before even a full year has passed. It's incredible to think how many things can happen in just one year. 
        Now when I see Birthrights, it's with the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. It's realizing that I went from being one of them, an American Jew, to this whole other person- an Israeli. We no longer share the same backstory, the same hometown and the same daily experience. And while I may understand where they're coming from, and speak their language, and be able to relate to this trip they're on- something has indelibly shifted. When I see them, I think about how in ten days, their time here will be over. They may extend a while, they may come back to visit, but by and large, they will go back to America, just like I did twelve times. But now I am retired from the Birthright game. And now I don't have to get on the plane to go back home- because I already am home.