My Birthright story is much like thousands of other participants – it was a whirlwind of fun and a life changing experience. I not only made numerous new friends, but also bonded with my group’s tour guide, even our bus driver become a cult hero by the end of trip. From our groups first days in Haifa to our last in Tel Aviv, we formed such a strong sense of camaraderie making the end of the trip more blue than I anticipated.
Our trip began in Haifa, the picturesque seaport town with military ships lining its harbor. We then checked into our hotel rooms and readied for the next morning. First on our tour was the town of Tzfat. An ancient town with rich history and culture, Tzfat’s narrow alleyways accompanied by mountaintop views made it one my favorite sites on the trip. Later that day, in groups of four we rafted down the Jordan River. I was one of the ‘lucky ones’ to be pulled overboard by our staff leader in a friendly sneak attack.
On day four we met the eight Israeli soldiers who accompanied us the rest of the trip. In Haifa we headed to the Baha’i Gardens atop the city, there we played icebreaker games with the soldiers in separate groups. The gardens, which looked over the seaport, was one of mine and many others’ favorite view of the trip. After, we headed to the Bedouin community in the Negev desert. It was a fabulous eye opening experience, and the desert wasn’t as hot as I anticipated, a potential benefit of going in May. The Bedouins served us delicious coffee, tea, and a wonderful meal in which we used our hands as utensils making dinner a fun and messy experience.
Over the next couple days our group traveled to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Our tour had to be slightly rearranged for security reasons to accommodate President Trump’s visit to Jerusalem. Outside of being in the center of both cities, our group hiked Masada during sunrise. This was a favorite for everyone in my group because of the stunning scenery and utter lack of sound as the sun rose over the mountain vista. We also visited the graves of fallen Israeli soldiers and the Western Wall. I’m not overly religious but the experience I had at the Western Wall was profound and enlightening. Once in Tel Aviv we had a full slate of activities for “Tel Aviv day.” Our whole group was broken into smaller subgroups and we all attended different events such as percussion, cooking, beach day and more. My group participated in the percussion and beach activities. Both were very fun, though I give the edge to the percussion activity because it was something I’d never done before.
The final couple days encompassed attending a concert by popular Israeli band, Hatikva 6. They are a great band and I recommend checking them out! As a grand finale our group toured Yad Vashem, the world’s most popular Holocaust memorial museum. The museum certainly takes the breath out of you. It has remarkable items so well preserved that you can channel the pain and horror each soul endured. It was a sobering and educational event for our entire group, which I appreciated.
The best part of birthright for me was the overall experience looking back once I came home. You learn more about yourself and your family history than you anticipated. You grow as a person with more worldly views on humanity. You witness with your own eyes the true nature of the Israeli — Palestinian conflict, not filtered through a television camera. The conversations with the Israeli soldiers and from forums held with local journalists explain the conflict through a different lens than back in the states. You get to talk with and learn about life as a young Israeli soldier and compare their life to yours. The ability to experience other cultures expanding one’s beliefs even further and makes you a more well-rounded and confident individual.
Contrary to some Jews’ beliefs, Birthright is not a propaganda tool of the government; it is not a ploy to make everyone become diligent practicing Jews. It’s simply to come to see and feel Jewish culture in the only Jewish state in the world while soaking up some (a lot) of sun. If you haven’t participated in Birthright, I highly recommend you attend. If you’re still unsure about contact someone at CSU Hillel or talk to a friend who has already gone because it’s an opportunity of a lifetime.