This past summer, I went on my Birthright or, in Hebrew, Taglit, which allows Jewish youth to explore and connect with their roots by offering a free trip of a lifetime to tour Israel. In ten days, I traveled all over the nation learning the ins and outs of what makes Israel, Israel—the good and the not-so-great.
Unlike some opinions, Birthright is not a brainwashing-geared organization (other than the fact that the founders hope that young Jewish adults will procreate and make Jewish babies on the trip.) Before joining, I already had a love for Israel, it's people, it's culture, and the hummus. I owe a thank you to Israel for giving my grandparents and, thus, parents citizenship as they left anti-semitic Russia hoping to one day raise kids who were prideful, not afraid or ashamed, of their Jewish ancestry.
I've learned a lot about Israel and my personal struggle with organized trips, in general; nonetheless, I enjoyed the experience, loved meeting new people and ways of life, and have plenty of Birthright tips and stories to share.
1. Everyone wants to know about life in America
On the 10-day trip, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers joined our group to learn about our life as we learn about theirs; hence, realizing that we are more similar than different. Us Americans were so excited to meet the sexy soldiers, and, concurrently, the soldiers wanted to know everything about the places we come from New York City to California.
2. People get crabby after driving in a sweaty bus for hours
When you put 40 20-year-olds on a bus for hours, it doesn't get pretty.
3. It's not all about religion, it's so much more complex than just that
I was worried that the Birthright organization was going to try to force religion upon me and, personally, religion isn't my thing. However, the Jewish nation is so much more than religious. In reality, many citizens are bothered by the ultra-Orthodox Jews who don't go to the army or pay taxes, and, instead, ask for money on the streets to feed and produce more children. When I also spoke to the soldiers on our trip, they were not religious and many didn't believe in a higher power at all; instead, they see Judaism as a culture like I do. That doesn't mean we don't respect it, but it's not the lifestyle every Jew has to choose.
4. Israel is the size of New Jersey
Since I live in Jersey, this fact blew my mind! Throughout the trip, we traveled from the North to the South back up again and it boggles my mind that, although we didn't touch every corner of the country, we were all over the place in one trip! If you're visiting Israel, make sure to move around and don't just stay in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.
5. Israel is about peace
Peace > violence.
6. Heat stroke/exhaustion is not the same thing as dehydration
To keep it nice and simple, wear a hat and carry a bottle of water.
7. The Dead Sea is the lowest point of Earth
Unfortunately, the sea is drying out and shrinking.
8. Guns are widespread, but the atmosphere is peaceful
I remember the first time I saw police carrying guns in Penn Station: I freaked out. Yet, in Israel, guns are everywhere, and I didn't feel uneasy about them since these are last-resort tools.
9. Not all IDF soldiers want to be fighting
From talking to the soldiers on my trip, I've realized that although patriotic, soldiers are still just young adults! They don't want to be fighting and growing up too quickly, they'd rather go to college and act like the silly kids they are.
10. Gay capital of the Middle East
I took an LGBTQ+ tour in Tel Aviv and, hunny, I loved it. Especially when compared to its neighbors, Israel has open arms for a diverse community, including the gay one. There is so much to do in Israel and I can't wait to return again, but this time with my best friends as we go crazy during Tel Aviv Pride.
11. Make friends with Birthright staff
So thankful that I had the best staff ever!
12. More diverse than I thought
On the trip, we spent a night with a group of nomadic Arab peoples—the Bedouins—and it opened my eyes to Israel's diversity.
13. There is so much desert
Look to the left of you: sand. Look to the right of you: sand. Look down: sand. Look up: oh, finally, something other than sand.
14. Food is my favorite "F" word
I ate falafel, hummus, and shawarma every day and I was such a happy camper. We also saw the largest avocados you will ever see in your life.
15. Shake your shekels
There are so many different coins. Some act as dollars while others are cents. I don't know, I just stuck out my hand with coins and let other people count the moola.
16. I got Bat Mitzvahed!
Better late than never!
17. All smiles and kindness
Yes, Israelis are known to be pushy, but, overall, everyone was so kind and willing to help us Americans.