I’ll never forget the moment I fell in love with Israel.

I traveled to Israel on an extreme sports tour during the summer before college. I had never gone rappelling, and we reached the edge of a huge cliff.

“Ok, chevra (my friends). Yalla (let’s go)!” our Israeli guide shouted to us after he spent five seconds setting up a loop of ropes. “Who’s first?”

I stepped towards the edge of the cliff and looked down. It was hundreds of feet of sharp desert rocks. I couldn’t even see the bottom. Was he insane? They did not really expect us to go down this thing. There was no way. The rest of the group had a similar expression on their faces.

I turned to the guide and asked, “Is there another way down?”

“No chabibi, this is it. Yalla.” And then he gestured for me to put on the rope harness that he had made.

I shook my head.

Yalla! Let’s go. Zeh beseder.” I stepped into the ropes and waited for his instructions.

“Turn around and go,” he said, indicating that I should go backwards off the cliff.

As I stood on the edge of this steep cliff I thought, I am going to die.

“Go!” he shouted, and suddenly I was making my way down the cliff, my feet stepping on jutting rocks. When I turned around and looked at the view, I saw miles of beautiful mountains and valleys and a sky the color of deep blue water. I have never in my life seen anything this beautiful. It was that moment, hanging off of a cliff in the middle of the Golan, that I fell in love with Israel for the first time.

Since then I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to live and raise children there for many years. And even though we now live in America, my heart remains in our homeland, and I am grateful every day for the gifts that Israel has given me. This is why I am grateful for Israel:

1. Israel taught me to overcome my fears. Whether it was rappelling down a cliff for the first time or learning how to speak in a language that was not my own, Israel taught me that many things in life only look intimidating until we muster up the courage to actually do them. Israel instilled within me the idea of “Yalla” – let’s go!

2. Israel taught me the value of simplicity. Holding a small, plastic bag of milk for the first time or looking at the size of the kitchen in our first apartment in Israel, I wondered how we were going to survive. But living in Israel taught me that we really don’t need big kitchens or supersize products. The comforts of my childhood, I discovered, were overrated. I soon learned to focus on what was essential in my life instead of becoming distracted by my surroundings.

3. Israel connected me to my ancestors. Before I moved to Israel, I was an American first and a Jew second. Israel gave me back the strength of my Jewish identity and drove me to follow in the footsteps of my ancestors. It was there that the wisdom of Judaism became the foundation of everything that I do. It was there that I discovered that I wanted to raise my children with the beauty of our traditions and with the light of our Torah.

4. Israel taught me the value of unity. It was in Israel that I learned to interact with and appreciate people who were different from me. I learned from a myriad of fascinating cultures and ways of life. I learned the incredible beauty of being a part of a land where Jews from all over the world come and live together. And it was there that I learned that ultimately, there is so much more that unites us than divides us.

Thank you Israel for your beauty and for your wisdom. For your steep cliffs and your ocean blue skies. And above all, thank you for teaching me so many years ago how to step forward into my life instead of waiting by the edge.

Tell us why you’re grateful for Israel in the comment section below.