When relatives would ask me, “Are you excited to go to Israel?” I would usually just shrug my shoulders and say, “Yeah, I guess?” It was not because I was not excited, because I definitely was. It was because I did not really know what to expect.
I had done my research. I had looked at the itinerary and talked to friends who had gone previously. But most of my exposure to Israel had been limited to media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it was hard to wrap my head around what Birthright was going to be. That is why I am so glad I went.
As our tour guide, Chen, said from day one, the point of Birthright is to show you that Israel is not what you think it is. I experienced this every day. To go into every amazing moment would take another ten days, so here are my top five moments from Birthright Israel.
1. Mt. Masada
On the seventh day, we woke up at 4:50 a.m. to do a sunrise hike of Mt. Masada, a very important siege sight and piece of Jewish history. Now, Masada is a tough hike when you are fit, which I am not. It was hard but as I took the last step onto the top the sun peeked over the mountains in the distance. It was such an empowering moment. Once at the top I participated in a Bat Mitzvah ceremony and I felt so close to my Jewish identity. It was an experience I will always cherish.
2. The Food
I don’t know what it is about Israel, but everything tastes better. Even non-Israeli foods like pasta and burgers were just better. I loved eating falafel and schnitzel at the open-air markets, and now when the dining hall serves “falafel” my taste buds just ache. My favorite thing I ate was definitely a type of cookie called Rugelach from the Marzipan bakery in Jerusalem. I only just finished the cookies I brought home with me because I had to savor every bite.
3. Yad Vashem
Yad Vashem, The Holocaust memorial and museum in Israel, is a big emotional undertaking. Most of it felt more like a museum, which was very informative while still tugging on the heartstrings. However, it was the Children’s Memorial that really hit me. It was harrowing. But in a way it was also moving given what is happening in today’s world. What stood out to me was the dichotomy at the museum/memorial between Landscape of Death, which the Holocaust definitely was, and the Landscape of Life that was all around us. Trees grew, birds sand, life continued to thrive. And if I got anything out of the visit, it was definitely that there is still goodness and hope still thrive in the darkest places.
4. The Bedouin Tents and riding a camel!
Okay, so I have to say – we were not “experiencing the Bedouin lifestyle.” This was boujee Birthright camping. That being said, it was super fun and probably my favorite night of the trip. All 46 of us slept on mats in one giant tent and it was… interesting to say the least. My favorite part was dinner where we all sat around a platter of rice and meat an do it a and we just had a blast. Then, in the morning, we got to go on a camel caravan! While I admit it probably was not the best life for the camels, I think we were very nice to ours. We even named him Russell.
5. The Friends
Overall, what made this trip amazing was the friends I made. I was very nervous about making friends on the trip, but I went home with a whole group of new friends that I love so dearly. Overall, it’s not the activities or locations that made this Birthright trip what it was, it was the friends I got to share it with.
I’m so glad I went and I look forward to going again someday. I am so grateful that I got to go on this trip and I would highly recommend it to any young Jewish person who is curious what Israel is all about. I will truly never forget this amazing experience.