It’s morning in Israel as you toss and turn in your Bedouin tent underneath the beautiful desert sky. Imagine waking up to someone shouting, “it’s time to ride the camels!” As you quickly throw your clothes on and emerge from your sleeping quarters, you see several camels patiently sitting in the desert sand, waiting. Beautiful deep colors of red, orange and purple dance across the horizon as the sun begins to rise and you begin your journey with your new furry friend across the dunes of the Negev desert. The opportunity to explore this beautiful country can become a reality for you if you are eligible to participate in Birthright.
For over 15 years now, Taglit Birthright has been giving the gift of a free trip to Israel for Jewish students, aged 18-26 from across the world. In Hebrew, the word “taglit” means discovery. Essentially, the state of Israel, along with some amazing contributors, are able to send Jewish young adults to their homeland simply because they are Jewish. To date, over 350,000 Jews have traveled to Israel through this program. Trips are offered during both the summer and the winter. Many people are hesitant to apply for a multitude of reasons. Some think there has to be some type of catch. As someone who just got back from a birthright trip last year, I can assure you that there are absolutely no strings attached. Both hotel accommodations and airfare are completely paid for with no cost to you. Others may be fearful for safety reasons. Birthright trips always have safety as their number one priority. After spending 10 days in Israel, I felt silly for believing that it was unsafe to travel there. In many ways, I actually felt safer in Israel than in America. In America, it has been commonplace to hear stories of school shootings, movie theatre massacres and much more. The enemy is unknown in America. Your next door neighbor could be someone who wants to harm you or the person you sit next to in class. However, in Israel, the enemy is known. The enemy is a force outside of the country itself unlike American where the bad guys often lie within our own borders. Obviously, those who choose to go on a trip cannot deny the tension that is constantly present in the Middle East however, not a day went by that I didn’t feel safe.
As far as how the trip works, there are few things you should know. First, this is a 10 day trip across all parts of Israel including the North, Tel Aviv, the Negev Desert and other places depending on what trip organizer you go with. The trip organizers can be found on the website as well as on the application itself when you go to apply. There are various trip organizers offered to suit your own interests. If you like being outside, there’s a nature birthright trip. If you enjoy hiking and adventure, there’s a trip organizer for that too. Also it’s important to note, if you want to go with another Jewish friend, you totally can by indicating so on your application form. As for me, I chose to go entirely by myself and I returned home with 40 new friends from all over the country. This is without a doubt an experience of a lifetime. If you go with my trip organizer, Mayanot, here are some things you can look forward to (itineraries are different for every trip): climbing Masada, floating in the Dead Sea, riding a camel, clubbing in Tel Aviv, visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem, jeeping through the Golan Heights, and much more!
This trip was life changing for me. After my Bat-Mitzvah, I stopped going to my synagogue and lost touch with my religion a bit. I felt reconnected with my homeland and with other Jewish people upon returning from this trip. However, by no means is this trip overly religious. In fact, some trip organizers don’t mention much about religion at all. With such an incredible opportunity such as this, I was able to do and see things that I never thought I would during my lifetime. For example, I got to interact with Israeli soldiers and I even met a young woman around my age who shared many of my own interests such as baking and playing guitar. There is something to be said about being raised and brought up in a certain culture but then it’s an entirely different story when you’re immersed in the culture and experience things firsthand. Not only did I get to meet new people and hear their stories but I also had a lot of fun too. One of the best parts of Israel is that there are so many different aspects to such a small country. One minute, you can be in Tel Aviv dancing the night away and the next, you’re in Jerusalem, admiring the history in one of the holiest cities in the world. The possibilities of sights and stories are endless when you step foot in Israel.
For more information, you can visit the Taglit-Birthright official website. Anyone from the organization is more than happy to answer any questions about the application process and about the trip itself. Remember that even if you have converted to Judaism or have only one parent who is Jewish, you can still qualify for a free trip. This is an amazing opportunity provided to young people by the state of Israel and it would be foolish not to take it. I have amazing memories from my time spent in such a beautiful country and I am thankful for the opportunity that was provided to me. There is a well-known quote that states, “ I would gladly live out of a suitcase, if it meant I could see the world.” I encourage all of you reading this to travel well and travel often when you get the chance and remember…Israelis know how to have a good time!