My oldest female cousin Rachel has been in Israel on Birthright for the past week or so. Then yesterday, BFFL Hillary was celebrating Israel’s 70th year of independence, so the combination of those two events made me reminisce about my own Birthright trip to Israel in 2010, like 8 freaking years ago.
What is Birthright?
Well aside from it being an amazing Fire Emblem Fates game, it’s also a program for college and post college students ranging from ages 18 to 27 to explore Israel for ten days to learn more about your Jewish heritage. All you really need is some form of Judaism in your genetics [it can even be a great aunt, it doesn’t have to be a parent] and a want to learn more about your heritage. It’s a free trip, you pay a 250 dollar fee to secure your spot, but after the trip, about a month after, you’ll get refunded that 250 dollars. You’re in a group of 50 people, an armed Israeli guard travels with you, and eventually you’re joined by Israeli youths and soldiers, as well, and you visit all sorts of places throughout Israel. If you want more information, you can read more about Birthright here.
At first, I never really wanted to go to Birthright, it just didn’t interest me. I’ve never been a very good Jew, and Israel wasn’t high on my list of places to see. Then over winter break, a friend of mine decided to go to Birthright, and he had the time of his life and told me I should go. I was really high at the end of the age spectrum, I was 26, turning 27 in September. I mentioned Birthright to my grandfather and he thought I really should go and he really wanted me to go, so I applied because I wanted to make him happy, I was accepted, and it was off to Israel in June 2010.
Anyhow, here are my top ten Birthright memories [not in any particular order]:
1. Going to Eliat. We were supposed to hike to some waterfall park. But the temperature was super super hot, like I’m talking 108 degrees, though now that I live in Texas, that just seems normal, but due to the extreme heat they did not want us hiking due to dangers from the heat like fainting, dehydration, etc, so instead we wound up at Eliat. To me, Eliat is kind of like a clean Jersey shore. There were tons of beaches, snorkeling, jet-skis, and opportunities for swimming and things like that. My friend Lindsey and I decided to buy really cheap googles at basically a flea market, and we spent the entire time at Eliat, before the four hour drive to Jerusalem, snorkeling and swimming in the Red Sea, and it was just awesome.
2. Staying on the Kibbutz. For the first three days of our trip, we stayed on a Kibbutz. There were specific rules on the Kibbutz that we just didn’t follow. We were supposed to stay in a certain area, and not cross the bushes to another area, where the locals lived. Well, my roommate and I didn’t really follow that rule, and we ventured past the bush during the first night and met a bunch of locals, who lived on the Kibbutz. We wound up hanging out with them for the next three nights, drinking strange flavored Israeli liquor, smoking a hookah, and just talking about life, and it a really good experience and really cool to really talk to Israelis and compare and contrast our cultures.
3. Masda. I actually still have that group photo framed in my room, I don’t remember who most of the people are in it, but I still have the photo. The night before we camped out at a Bedouin Tent and I hated it. It was hot, mosquitoes were everywhere, and I just couldn’t fall asleep because of those reasons and the fact that my bed was a straw mat on the floor, however, the food was really good, but the Bedouin Tent will go down as my least favorite night ever at Birthright. However, the next morning, we hiked up Masada and watched the sun rise over the Dead Sea, even though I had less than two hours of sleep, and we woke up at 4 am to begin the climb, but the view was totally worth it.
4. The Dead Sea. First of all, if you ever go to the Dead Sea, please either wax a week or so before, or just deal with hairy legs because that shit stings. I was able to survive maybe one minute in the Dead Sea before the stinging and burning started on my leg. In fact, even after I lathered myself in the mud from the Dead Sea, I couldn’t wash it off in the sea because it stung so much, so I wound up washing it off in the showers, and spent the rest of my time in the swimming pool we had access too. But still, despite the stinging and burning, it was amazing to be at the lowest point on Earth.
5. Shawarma. Shawarma is amazing. I still fantasize about Israeli Shawarma. [and side note: Israel is kosher, so it’s impossible to order, a cheeseburger for example because it would be mixing dairy and meat. All the meals we were served in Israel and bought in Israel was kosher].
6. My search for iced coffee. I really wanted iced coffee when we were in Jerusalem. I mean Israel had Aroma Coffee, and Aroma Coffee is delicious, it’s basically like a coffee flavored frapachino and I loved it [and there’s a totally an Aroma Coffee in a mall in NJ, and whenever I go visit home, I always need to get one], but I really wanted real iced coffee. My friend Lindsey and I searched Jerusalem for hours until we found a place that actually made me real iced coffee, and it the best coffee I had on the trip.
7. Visiting the Western Wall/Hotel and leaving a note in it. I don’t remember what the note said, but it was an amazing experience. The Kotel is divided into a female’s section and a male’s section, and you’re only allowed to worship in your specific section. You also cannot expose your shoulders or your knees at the Kotel.
8. Visiting and touring Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum. My words cannot describe how amazing, yet depressing and sad this experience was, so I am not even going to try.
9. Our first sabbath in Israel. Israel really does shut down during the sabbath. We spent the sabbath playing soccer with a dog that we nicknamed Pele and swimming in the Kibbutz swimming pool and having chicken-fights.
10. Getting to know and spend time with 50 people, who I may have not met otherwise. You really meet some of the coolest people on Birthright, and it was an experience just getting to know people, and forming friendships even if those friendships only lasted less than two weeks.
I don’t really talk to many of the people I went on Birthright with, I mean I’m friends with some of them on social media and a couple even got together and got married from our Birthright trip, but that’s life. For two weeks, these people were a huge part of my life, and I was grateful to have met them.
I’m glad I went on Birthright. It was an amazing experience and I’m glad I got to experience it. I mean, Birthright sure isn’t drama free with drinking [the drinking age in Israel is 18]. There’s also a lot of hooking up and hooking up is even encouraged [gotta keep having those Jewish babies!] and that always brings drama.
But overall, I’m glad I went, I got to experience Israel, learn more about my heritage, and see someplace else in the world that I never would have gone to otherwise.
Happy 70 years of Independence Israel 🙂