A few weeks ago, I went on a life-changing trip to Israel through Birthright, an organization that sends Jewish young adults on a ten-day journey through Israel for free. There are a variety of different programs that people can apply for. I went through the program Mayanot on a Tulane-affiliated trip with Tulane’s Chabad leader, Rabbi Leibel. Now that I am back from this amazing experience, I wanted to share why you should go on Birthright too and give you all the tips you need to make the most of it.
Who Should You Go With?
The question that most people have when it comes to Birthright is who they should go with. School friends? Home friends? Alone? There is no right or wrong decision. I know people who have done each of those options and loved it. Regardless of who you go with, you will make amazing friends.
Since I went on a Tulane trip, I knew a bunch of people going into it. I was definitely nervous that I wouldn’t branch out because of this, but I was very surprised by how many people I actually met. I became closer with so many people from school that I didn’t really know well, and I even met people from Tulane that I had never spoken to before. In addition, there were a lot of people that weren’t from Tulane, so now I have friends that I can visit at other colleges. Don’t get me wrong; going in with friends was great and I had the best time with them, but definitely try to branch out as much as you can.
There is so much to do in this beautiful country and it is truly amazing how many places and things you can see in ten days. Yes, this does mean waking up early and it does involve a lot of walking and hiking. But I promise you the views are worth it.
From Tiberias to Safed, to Jerusalem, to Tel Aviv, to the Negev, to Masada and the Dead Sea, there were so many unbelievable places rich in history and beauty. I had been to most of these places before with my family, but experiencing them as an adult and being surrounded by my peers made me appreciate them even more.
For those of you who love adventure like me, you will enjoy the various outdoor activities this trip offers: river rafting, hiking, biking along the beach, floating in the Dead Sea, and riding a Camel through the desert.
If you love shopping and buying gifts for people, you can’t go wrong with Israel’s many outdoor markets. In addition, these markets usually have great food and fruit smoothies so don’t be afraid to go all out!
Israel is known for its food, so definitely be open-minded when it comes to trying new things. Israel was the place that I first fell in love with falafel and chicken shawarma. If you love hummus, you’re in for a treat because they have the best ever! On Birthright you may be limited to hotel food, since you tend to get up early and get back late, but when you have the chance to get a meal on your own, try to explore your options and try new things at every place! Even the little shacks on the side of the road are amazing.
The second I landed in Israel, I immediately felt connected to the country and its people. It’s a feeling that I can’t explain, but anyone who has experienced it as well will understand. I found that the Israeli people were very friendly and loved the Birthright organization. I even would get discounts on items I bought while wearing my Birthright nametag.
One of my favorite parts of the trip was connecting with the Israeli soldiers we hosted. Every trip gets a group of soldiers to tag along for a few days. Some of these soldiers were younger than I was, so it was really amazing to hear their experiences. My friend and I roomed with one of the soldiers and we immediately became close with her. All of them were so open to meeting us and getting to know us, and when it was time to say goodbye, everyone was crying. It was amazing how close we got to them in only a few days. What was even more amazing was that when the trip was over, a few of them decided to surprise the group at the airport. I extended my trip, so when I got to the airport four days later, the soldier I roomed with came to the airport to say goodbye to me, which was so special.
One of my other favorite parts of the trip was spending Shabbat at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Everyone was singing and dancing, and every Birthright group that was in Jerusalem at that time came together to celebrate. I felt so connected to everyone there, regardless of if they were Birthright participants, Israelis, or just visiting for the experience as well. We all shared a common love for Judaism and Israel.
Should You Extend?
I extended my trip for four extra days and I definitely recommend anyone who has the time to extend as well. I have cousins in Israel and was lucky enough to be able to stay with them and get my own personal tour of places. Extending is the time where you can relax and explore at your own pace. I spent most of my time at the beach and markets in Tel Aviv, which was great.
What I Learned from This Trip
In addition to learning a lot about the history of Israel and the Jewish people, I also learned a lot about myself by doing Birthright. Birthright definitely makes you open up, not only to your group but also to yourself. It is an emotional experience and impacts people in different ways. However, I think that anyone who has been on this trip can agree that it forces you to think deeper about your own life, which is why people describe it as a life-changing experience. I am so thankful for the people I met and the things that I learned, which is why I want to encourage you to go on this amazing journey as well. I promise you, it is worth it. Birthright is a trip I will never forget!