How Birthright Changed My Life

Over a year ago when my friend Maddie came back from five weeks in Israel, we came up with the crazy idea of going on a Birthright Israel trip together before we started college 1,900 miles away from each other. Being from Israel, I didn’t necessarily feel the need to explore it anew, but I was looking forward to introducing my best friend to my homeland. I signed up for the chance to travel with my friend, but I left with a rejuvenated connection to Judaism, my homeland, and lifelong friendships.

As the largest educational tourism organization in the world, with the help of 30,000+ donors, Birthright Israel sends young Jewish adults on the (free) trip of a lifetime. For Jews between the ages of 18 to 32, Birthright Israel provides 7-10 days of non-stop educational tourism. The trip is jam-packed with activities such as rafting, hiking, camel-riding, and lots of eating. With the option to extend your trip and stay up to 90 days, young adults can make the most out of their time in Israel, and even travel to other countries with a free flight back to the United States from Tel Aviv. Opting for the classic Hello Israel trip, organized by Yael Adventures, we embarked on our 10 day trip this past July. Starting in the North by the Sea of Galilee, we made our way down through Tel-Aviv–Israel’s cultural hub of innovation–to the desert and the Dead Sea, ending the trip with three days in Jerusalem. 

 

Birthright participants come from a broad range of backgrounds. Some are religiously observant and some barely have a connection to Judaism other than being born into it. Whatever Judaism means to you, Birthright provides opportunities for introspection and discussion to discover your connection to Judaism and the land. On Saturday, the Jewish day of rest, we were broken up into small groups and handed pieces of paper listing around fifteen Jewish values and told to choose the top ten most important values. Then the top five. Then three. Then we were told to choose what we all thought was most important value (If it were up to me, eating lox and bagels would come out on top, no doubt). It wasn’t the value that we chose that impacted me, but rather the discussion leading up to it. Growing up I was surrounded by like-minded, relatively reform, Jews. I was not unaware to the ideals of Orthodox Judiaism growing up, but I never had the chance to openly discuss the values of Judaism with someone who was not on the more reform side. That afternoon, and the rest of the trip, opened my eyes to the different branches of Judaism, along with how connected we all are, no matter what value we each put on top.

 

It’s cheesy, I know, but ten days full of Israeli dancing, crazy nights out, and more falafel than you could possibly imagine, are plenty to turn a group of forty nine strangers into the best of friends. There’s something unique about being covered head to toe with mud with people you had just met days before. In just ten days I grew closer to one of my best friends, met new people who I still regularly talk to, and solidified my own connection to Judaism and my homeland, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

 

Sources: 1, 2, 3

Images: All images featured within article were captured by the author