After arriving in Israel, we went immediately to Caesaria to eat breakfast and see the Roman aqueduct. The food was amazing, and the ocean air and sand were a great change from the hot and dry airplane air that we had been in for over 9 hours.
At first, the trip to the beach seemed like nothing more than a sightseeing trip. We did eventually see the aqueducts and test the Mediterranean waters, but before that we had an unexpected moment of connection with the country.
When we got to the beach, we all circled up as a group and did an icebreaker where we passed a ball to each other and named the place we were most looking forward to experiencing.
And then Gadi, our tour guide for the 10-day trip, told us something I don't think I'll ever forget. He said, "I'm not saying 'welcome to Israel,' I'm saying 'welcome back.'"
Gadi told us about how the Romans invaded what is now Israel 2,000 years ago, when some of the first Jews were living on the land. That is how the Caesarian aqueduct got to its spot on the beach. The Jews revolted but lost their revolution, and the Romans exiled them from the land and scattered them throughout the world. This is why many of us have ancestors from Europe - the Romans forced them there.
If you are Jewish and trace your roots past Europe, you will find Israel. That's the cool thing about this country: it's so much more than that. It's more than just a tourist stop or a place you hear about on the news sometimes. It's a place that we have a blood connection to. The only thing we have to do is build a personal one.
Janine Neprud is a junior at UNC-Greensboro from Duxbury, Massachusetts.