How A Journey To Israel Reminds Me Of My First Snow

The first years of my life were in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has many natural beauties and one of those is certainly not snow. Growing up on the tropical island I knew the concept of snow; I had seen pictures of snow, watched movies with snow and understood that snow existed. Snow was somewhere out there, I remember thinking it was featured heavily in “Home Alone” movies and I assumed all kids used snow to stop mischievous (and surprisingly repeat) burglaries. I knew about snow and I understood snow. I was 5 years old, I really got it.

A few years after that, I moved to the outskirts of Chicago. Chicago is no tropical island and sure enough, a few months after moving there autumn turned into winter and one fateful day my mom yelled from downstairs.

“Mira afuera!”

“Look outside!”

We had these big glass sliding doors in our living room and I ran to them and pressed my adorable little hands on the glass and looked outside. It was snowing. And it was beautiful.

I threw on a coat (even today, I have that warm-weather immune system) and ran outside and held out my hand and watched snowflakes melted on my skin. It was real. Snow was real. It was actually real!

It’s a totally different experience, isn’t it? To know something exists and to see it in action.

I think about those moments in my life and I realize most took place in my childhood. I remember a moment when my dad sat at the end of my bed because I had nightmares and I started piecing together what this whole love thing was about. I remember being blown away when I was on a plane for my first time. You mean those giant cans that float in the sky in the movies are actually real?

Those moments get a lot more rare in adulthood; maybe it’s because we’ve experienced more, or we temper our expectations, but I’ve been missing those transformative moments like the ones I experienced as a kid. Yet, recently, I was lucky enough to experience that very same feeling.

In late July of this year I took a trip to Israel and I felt that feeling again. It was the exhilaration gained from the internal transformation that happens when one goes from knowing something exists, to seeing, feeling, touching and being fully immersed in it.

I knew Israel was unique, I knew it held places special to certain faiths and was where much of our modern civilization started. Yet no amount of words can fully describe what it’s like to float in the Dead Sea, to feel the energy in Old Jerusalem, to dip your hands in the Sea of Galilee.

The trip to Israel was a Reality trip with the incredible Schusterman Foundation. Our trip’s cohort was made up of 50 leaders working with and from Latin American communities. The trip was curated to perfection and it was one of the most memorable trips I’ve ever been on.

It was a trip where ideas I have believed revealed just how tangible they really are.

Recently, I’ve gone on my own personal journey in the rollercoaster that is faith. And in Israel, I got to see places where scholars and scientists agree that the lives of Jesus and Muhammad still resonate today. One can disagree on what actually happened after he was taken down, but I can tell you objectively that I touched the rock where a man named Jesus of Nazareth was taken down from a cross. Scientists and scholars agree where that took place. To me, what happened or didn’t happen after Jesus died was not the lesson I gained; it was that the history was coming alive.

Reading and intellectually understanding the birthplace of religion is one thing. Being there and feeling the energy of those sites is another. That’s the difference between knowing snow exists and holding it in your hands.

We went to the Western Wall and I saw thousands of people praying, crying, singing, and praising God. Have you ever seen faith in action? Truly in action? Faith that is so steadfast in its beliefs that its very existence changes you. This was bodies shaking from prayer while they were touching a wall that was so sacred to them. It was the most passionate singing and praying I’ve seen by a group of individuals…and then me finding out that the group prays like that every day, and every day they somehow reach that place of passion.

What are things you believe in that much everyday? What are commitments that you make everyday? I have trouble filling my list with anything that isn’t social media.

It’s a challenging thing, to see people believe in something so strongly. You’re left wondering what you believe in, what you would be willing to die for, what faith means to you. To be honest, I don’t know what to do now that the Holy Land has revealed itself to me in such tangible ways. I have been shaken up like a snowglobe and I’m curiously waiting to see if it’ll ever settle.

There was so much that happened on this trip, our itinerary was packed. Yet, for me, this trip was about connecting with Israel and letting the inherent magic of that land challenge me as a leader and person.

When was the last time you saw and felt something come alive inside of you? What was the last moment that took your breath away? How can we pursue more of these moments?

And I still think that perhaps the best way to describe this trip, especially in terms of faith and purpose and a very special land, is the same way I described snow to my mom when I was 7 years old:

“I guess I knew it was real…and now, I know it’s actually real. And that changes everything.”