Let’s get one thing straight: what happens on Taglit-Birthright Israel stays on Taglit-Birthright Israel — except for the selfies you take with your seemingly evil camel, the Instagram photos with perfect lighting at the top of Masada, the videos of your soldiers teaching you a Hebrew word of the day (because everything’s sababa [“cool”]), the breathtaking panoramic photos of the modern buildings in Tel Aviv, and the 10-second Snapchats of your fifth schawarma sandwich and Aroma iced coffee in ten days.
Some pictures, however, are better left for your own eyes, saved for the moments when nostalgia washes over you as you attempt to study for finals. Scroll through your photostream to find that one extremely photogenic picture of you making a toast while standing on the table at the bar in Jerusalem, the picture of you looking like Moses with your shirt wrapped around your head during your hike in the Golan, the picture of you washing out the Dead Sea mud that somehow found its way through the nooks and crannies of your bathing suit, and of course the picture of you oh-so-elegantly stuffing your mouth with delicious Bedouin foods and tea, or the picture of you asleep on the bus with an obscene drawing on your sunburnt face.
But all of the ridiculousness is forgiven, because those forty-some people you met at the airport just a few days prior have somehow turned into friends that you wouldn’t trade for the world — friends whom you can call your mishpachah (“family”). These are friends who you laugh with all night about how the merchant at the shuk tried to marry you in exchange for 20 gold coins, friends who lend you a shoulder to cry on when emotion overcomes you at the Western Wall or Yad Vashem, and friends who hold your hair after that insane night out in Tel Aviv.
And although each of the ten days you spend on Taglit-Birthright Israel are jam-packed with nonstop activities, it all comes down to self-discovery — a process that only occurs when you break from your routine and embark upon new experiences with the intention of understanding and strengthening your sense of identity.
Taglit is the Hebrew word for discovery — for this is the goal (and the realistic outcome) of the trips to Israel that their donors sponsor. Participants benefit from several forms of discovery: discovery of oneself as a Jewish young adult, discovery of new and sometimes unlikely friendships, discovery of beautiful ties to a beautiful land, and of course, discovery of a phenomenal time.
These beautiful connections you make with the people, the land, and the Jewish culture are not fleeting experiences, but enduring and powerful memories. Suddenly, you understand why your tour guide is so overly enthusiastic: Israel is a place like no other.
Steven Khosid, a fourth-year Microbiology, Immunology & Molecular Genetics student, recalls the ethereal experience of spending Shabbat in Jerusalem: “Being able to touch the [Western] Wall was one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had. I’m not a very religious person, but at that moment, it felt like G-d could hear everything I wanted to say.”
David Mostovoy, a third-year Political Science student, felt the surrealness of Israel in Jerusalem as well: “I’ve heard about [Israel], read about it [and] had friends that lived there. But when I walked around the streets of Jerusalem for the first time, everything I had ever known was put into perspective.”
Sarit Kashanian, a third-year English student, remembers her night out in Tel Aviv: “We got to visit the dance clubs and hookah bars, and it was a really fun time to celebrate with my group members and see everyone enjoying themselves. It was a lot like the night life at home, but with a Middle Eastern twist.”
The Birthright experience has become an integral part of American Jewish identity. If you are an eligible Jewish young adult between the ages of 18-26, don’t miss out on this one-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And did I mention it’s free? Also, participants are able to choose a Trip Organizer that caters best to their individual preferences, including level of religious observance, rigor of outdoor activity, as well as professional interests.
Summer 2015 registration opens on Feb. 3. Sign up here to stay updated. Don’t forget to mention Ha’Am Newsmagazine as your referral, and you could win some sweet Ha’Am merchandise!
This article was sponsored by Taglit-Birthright Israel