1. Become more connected with your Judaism
Prayer for the houseHayley Garron
You don't have to be a super religious person to go to Israel; most people in my group were not, but everyone definitely left the trip feeling more connected to being Jewish and to Israel.
2. You get super close to a new group of Jewish people around your age
Birthright group photoHayley Garron
Since I went on the trip through my university's Hillel, it was a lot easier to connect with other college students, and even several people who were out of college. Our group got very close, and I know we will all still keep in touch, and hopefully have a reunion one day.
3. Climb Masada, and check climbing a mountain off your bucket list
At the top of the mountainHayley Garron
Maybe you live somewhere with mountains, but in Florida, it is pretty flat. It was amazing to see all of the mountains and hills in Israel- especially the ones above the clouds. On one of the days, we hiked up Masada, and had the most amazing views. It was crazy looking down and seeing clouds below us.
4. Get fit and active
Birthright is definitely not for the faint of heart. Every day, we did all sorts of physical activities- such as climbing mountains and going on nature hikes. The scenery definitely made the exercise worth it. It was also amazing coming back and seeing that I dropped 5 pounds, despite all of the food I ate there!
5. The FOOD
The falafel was AMAZING! And vegan :)Hayley Garron
Speaking of food, Israel had AMAZING food. All of the hotels that we stayed at had huge buffets for every meal, and most days, we had free time during lunch to go explore restaurants, coffee shops, and souvenir shops. There was always plenty to eat- just make sure you drink a lot of water. Also, if you are vegan (like me), you'll love Tel Aviv- there were new vegan dishes at every single place we went, and it was awesome! I did get sick because the food is so different than what I was used to, so go easy, and definitely don't eat TOO much pasta for breakfast- every hotel had it on the breakfast buffet!
6. The Dead Sea
Friends in the Dead SeaHayley Garron
We were told on the trip that the Dead Sea may not be open to the public for that much longer, so definitely get there while you can! I am not a big fan of mud so I did not slather myself in it, but everyone else in our group had an awesome time nourishing their skin with the mineral-rich mud, as well as throwing it at each other. OH, and of course, floating in all of the salt was the best part.
7. You get to visit the Western Wall
The Western WallHayley Garron
While most people love Tel Aviv and I enjoyed it, Jerusalem by far was my favorite city. I loved the architecture of all of the buildings, and visiting the Western Wall was such a sacred experience. There are rows and rows of chairs with Siddurs (prayer books) for anyone who wants to pray at the wall. There was also a wait to put my note in the wall, but it was well worth it. This is the place that I remember hearing about most in Sunday school- especially the lessons on its history and importance.
8. Getting to participate in community service
At Save A Child's HeartHayley Garron
In Hebrew, we use the phrases Tikkun Olam and performing Mitzvot when talking about "making the world a better place." On one of our mornings, we went to this home called Save a Child's Heart, which houses children from all over the world with heart conditions while they get the proper medical help, and until they are strong enough to go home. Many of their moms also stay with them during their time there. During our visit, we learned how we could make an impact on the children's lives, and were given some time to play with them. It was such a heart-warming experience, and I hope to go back and visit on my next trip to Israel.
9. Spending time in a Bedouin tent in the middle of the desert
On a camel in the desertHayley Garron
Besides Jerusalem, my other favorite place was when we spent a (cold) night in a Bedouin tent. I remember we were on main roads, and then minutes later, we were headed into the desert- the middle of nowhere. But it was the most beautiful thing looking out the bus window and seeing nothing but miles and miles of sand, sky, and mountains all around us. We learned about the Bedouin coffee and tea rituals, had a hearty meal of middle-eastern food around a table on the ground, and also had fun around a bonfire before going to sleep in a giant (heated) tent. It was cold in the desert, but it was the most peaceful place I've ever been. I spent all night looking at constellations in the sky, and listening to the sound of animals in the distance. The whole experience was so beautiful and surreal.
10. Exploring art, markets, and shopping centers
Shopping Center in Tel AvivHayley Garron
11. You meet and become close with a group of Israeli soldiers.
Some of my new best friendsHayley Garron
I know my first point was about people, but I thought it fitting to end talking about the Israeli soldiers that were in our group. Not every birthright group gets their soldiers for 10 days like my group did- we were special, and definitely blessed for that. The seven soldiers that were with us became our closest friends, and are people that I plan on keeping in my life indefinitely. I connected so well with most of them, and still talk to several on a daily basis. Becoming friends with them has opened my eyes to a new culture, and how young adults live in this culture- going into the military directly after high school, and what their lives look like. Even though we live on different sides of the world, I found that we have more similarities than differences, and the trip was only as amazing as it was because I got close with them.
The last full day- of course was the hardest- was awesome because we went back to Tel Aviv and got to explore it alone. The minute we stepped off the bus in our groups, the biggest rainstorm I've ever been caught in hit us- yes it definitely does rain in the desert. It was so cold, and we were all wet, so the first place we ran to was a mall to buy some dry clothes. The mall was really cool though, because there was this one strip where it had dozens of different cultural food vendors to fulfill all of your food dreams. There were Asian stands, middle-eastern stands, European food stands, and more. All of them tried to catch your eye with samples- there was so much to choose from, and it was hard making a decision. After eating in the mall, we went to explore the open-air outdoor markets. These were where bartering skills were important. Wandering through the market was definitely an overwhelming experience- there were so many people everywhere, and I am so glad that we had our new Israeli friends with us to help barter and translate.
There is so much more I could write about for this trip, it was the best time of my life and I fell in love with a new place I call home. If you are thinking about going on birthright, I definitely would do it, because it is an amazing experience.