Experiencing the wonder of Israel through nature, spirituality, camaraderie and sheer joy.Returning from a trip is a little like going back in time. You retrace the very steps that were taken from end to beginning. For most there is that feeling of relief that you can finally plant your feet back on home soil, sleep in your own comfy bed, and return to the familiarity of life as it has always been.

For me retracing my steps after spending nine days leading fourteen women on an amazing hiking trip in Israel was bittersweet. Each step back in time reminded me of the wonderful moments that too quickly seemed to slip through my fingers.

I stood at Ben Gurion Airport remembering the excitement of arriving in Israel, posing in one of our first group photos in front of the ‘Welcome to Israel’ sign, each woman with her own expectations and dreams: most of us strangers to one another but bound together by the anticipation of this impending journey.

My flight back to the states brought me back even further to that long and arduous plane ride, my companions close at hand, meeting each other occasionally in the aisles for a friendly chat; then finally slipping in and out of fitful sleep. At last, arriving at Newark-Liberty airport I turned forlornly to see the very spot where it had all begun; when first we met, tentative and uneasy, yet filled with anticipation, but now eerily emptied of the happy chatter of fifteen eager souls.

The trip now concluded is settling quietly as sweet and jumbled memories in my mind. My fifteen ladies, have returned safely to the familiarity of life. But in my mind’s eye I see them all: splashing through the refreshing waterfalls of Ein Gedi and Nahal Arugot, climbing stealthily down the rocky hills of Mt. Gilboa and sipping Turkish coffee while devouring majadara with our Druze hosts.

I see them mounted on a camel caravan, these ladies of the desert, pounding in crazed ecstasy on the tarbooka drums on our sunset cruise, and climbing determinedly up the 700 steps to the top of the Jewish fortress of Massada. I see them lazing in the hot mineral springs of Hamat Gader, clambering sprightly up to the ancient ruins of Gamla, the Massada of the north, and dancing joyfully at our Friday night Oneg Shabat.

I see them gathered around a Bedouin feast, huddled in front of a welcoming campfire, and floating childlike in the Dead Sea, bodies covered in therapeutic mud. I see them singing sweetly in the cool Jerusalem night on Mt. Scopus. Where once we were strangers, I see a family tearfully parting from one another in our closing ceremony on the windswept shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

Our family came from near and far: four of us from Columbus, Ohio, two from Cincinnati, three from New Jersey, four from Minnesota, one from Louisiana, and one from California. We were Jews and Christians ranging in age from 15 to 60s. Some of us came with our best friends, others with daughters, still others with sisters. But in the end age, religion, place of birth, and point of view no longer mattered. We had turned into an exuberant group of teenagers, playful and daring bound together in this most amazing adventure.

Visiting Israel is always a unique and personal experience. This ancient and complex country stirs up feelings that are at once mysterious while at the same time so familiarly sweet. Fourteen women sharing such an intimate experience of communing with nature in all of its glory and mystical beauty only serves to enhance these feelings. Coming up close and personal with the ibex (mountain goats) in Ein Gedi, seeing the magnificent vibrant flowers of spring, hearing the calls of the half billion migrating birds overhead, and touching the ancient stones where civilization began is surreal and nothing short of a miracle.

Back in Columbus, I have begun to look forward once again. While the memories of this trip still infuse me with pleasure and I will always hold special feelings for this very first group, my daring fourteen pioneers, I look to the future to the next group of adventurous women who will experience the wonder of Israel through nature, spirituality, exploration, camaraderie and sheer joy.