17 Things I Learned On Birthright During 10 Days In Israel

17 Things I Learned In 10 Days In Israel

Food is my favorite "F" word.

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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.

Cover Image Credit:

Jennifer Kustanovich

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To The Girl Who Hasn't Been Herself Lately

Your spark return, and you will shine like you were meant to.
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Life gets tough. Life gets too much to handle sometimes, and those times make you stronger. However, right now, it seems like you have lost yourself.

It’s difficult when you catch yourself not being you. When you do something or act a certain way and just wonder, “what did I do to deserve this? Why is this happening? When will it get better?” The way you’re feeling is not so much that you’re unhappy, you just feel weird.

Your day will come. I promise you. This is just a phase.

The day you realize how much you have grown from this point in time will be your reward. It is so hard to see now, and I feel your pain.

Your light will return to you. Your pure bliss moments, they are seeking you. Your laughter where your tummy aches is in your reach.

Our moods change far too often for us as humans to understand why, but the encounters you make every day have this effect on us.

You must remember the pure happiness you experienced before your first heartbreak, before the first friend became someone you thought they weren’t, before you lost your innocence. That was a time of true joy as you had not a care in the world for the things that would harm you. Better yet, you didn’t have the option to experience them because you were just a child.

The world can be an ugly place, and your attitude towards life can change every day. One thing is for certain: you did not lose who you are internally. We all put on a face for the world. For the people who we try to impress. For the life we want to live. For the things we want to achieve.

Your definitive personality is still in the works. Believe it or not, it always will be. Times like this change us for the better even though we can’t see it.

Your happiness will return. You will be a better, stronger version of you. In fact, you will be the best version of you yet.

Once this phase is over, you will be okay. This I promise you.

Cover Image Credit: Megan Sutton

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I Might Have Aborted My Fetus When I Was 18, But Looking Back, I Saved A Child’s Life

It may have been one of the hardest decisions of my life, but I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't had done it.

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Due to recent political strife happening in the world today, I have decided to write on a very touchy, difficult subject for me that only a handful of people truly know.

When I was 18 years old, I had an abortion.

I was fresh out of high school, and deferring college for a year or two — I wanted to get all of my immature fun out so I was prepared to focus and work in the future. I was going through my hardcore party stage, and I had a boyfriend at the time that truly was a work of art (I mean truly).

Needless to say, I was extremely misinformed on sex education, and I never really thought it could happen to me. I actually thought I was invincible to getting pregnant, and it never really registered to me that if I had unprotected sex, I could actually get pregnant (I was 18, I never said I was smart).

I remember being at my desk job and for weeks, I just felt so nauseous and overly tired. I was late for my period, but it never really registered to me something could be wrong besides just getting the flu — it was November, which is the peak of flu season.

The first person I told was my best friend, and she came with me to get three pregnancy tests at Target. The first one came negative, however, the second two came positive.

I truly believe this was when my anxiety disorder started because I haven't been the same ever since.

Growing up in a conservative, Catholic Italian household, teen pregnancy and especially abortion is 150% frowned upon. So when I went to Planned Parenthood and got the actual lab test done that came out positive, I was heartbroken.

I felt like I was stuck between two roads: Follow how I was raised and have the child, or terminate it and ultimately save myself AND the child from a hard future.

My boyfriend at the time and I were beyond not ready. That same week, I found out he had cheated on me with his ex and finances weren't looking so great, and I was starting to go through the hardest depression of my life. Because of our relationship, I had lost so many friends and family, that I was left to decide the fate of both myself and this fetus. I could barely take care of myself — I was drinking, overcoming drug addictions, slightly suicidal and living with a man who didn't love me.

As selfish as you may think this was, I terminated the fetus and had the abortion.

I knew that if I had the child, I would be continuing the cycle in which my family has created. My goal since I was young was to break the cycle and breakaway from the toxicity in how generations of children in my family were raised. If I had this child, I can assure you my life would be far from how it is now.

If I had carried to term, I would have had a six-year old, and God knows where I would've been.

Now, I am fulfilling my future by getting a BA in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, having several student leadership roles, and looking into law schools for the future.

Although it still haunts me, and the thought of having another abortion truly upsets me, it was the best thing to ever happen to me. I get asked constantly "Do you think it's just to kill a valuable future of a child?" and my response to that is this:

It's in the hands of the woman. She is giving away her valuable future to an unwanted pregnancy, which then resentment could cause horror to both the child and the woman.

As horrible as it was for me in my personal experience, I would not be where I am today: a strong woman, who had overcome addiction, her partying stage, and ultimately got her life in order. If I would have had the child, I can assure you that I would have followed the footsteps of my own childhood, and the child would not have had an easy life.

Because of this, I saved both my life and the child's life.

And if you don't agree or you dislike this decision, tough stuff because this is my body, my decision, my choice — no one else.

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