Pictured here is me, in the north of Israel, enjoying the old city of Tzfat. Before this smiley photo was taken, a man approached me while playing his ukulele, asking for money (as the devil’s lettuce is expensive in Israel).

From Iowa to Israel: The search for my Jewish identity

On a free trip to Israel with fellow Jewish college students, a Daily Iowan reporter prayed to find a sense of belonging.

    After one too many tequila shots, Monica woke up in the same state she had been the night before: drunk. My friends and I noticed her drunken stupor after her purchase of a small drum with “Jerusselm” misspelled on its front. The walk — more like a hung-over shuffle — to the stone gates of the Old City was not as quiet or riveting as one might expect, because Monica decided that banging on the drum while singing the “Walmart yodeling kid song” was the proper way to greet the holiest city on Earth, Jerusalem.
    Birthright, a nonprofit organization, gives a free trip to young Jews around the world to help them connect with Israel and their Jewish identity. Even as grateful and connected I felt to such a place, I found Monica’s perfect pitch amid the sand-dusted gates of the city to be the most suitable background music for my current place in life.
    The trip also allows us “cashews” (one parent Christian, the other Jewish) to join the incredible journey.
    My name is Madison Lotenschtein, and I am a certified cashew. I was born in Hawaii and raised in Iowa. No, I am not Hawaiian, and my last name isn’t German, just to set the record straight. I was brought up in a Christian/Jewish light that accepted other religions and ways of life because of the diversity in our four-walled Victorian home. Growing up and having a Jewish identity in Iowa is a subject I have yet to discuss with anyone. My father is reform. In other words, a fairly liberal Jew.
    While it was daunting enough to land in a foreign nation, it was even more frightening to think of being schlepped across a country with 40 strangers near my age. After all, this was my first time traveling without my family. We were all hoping to enhance or find our Jewish identity, whether it be by joining in on the “Walmart yodeling kidsong” or by praying on the Western Wall.
 

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