Birthright Israel was a trip that I had been looking forward to and planning to go on for many, many years. My oldest sister, Morgan, went on her Birthright Israel trip when I was in high school and hearing about her experience and how much she loved it made me want to go on this trip as well.

My other older sister, Alexis, and I had talked about going on Birthright together for a long time – we are pretty close and knew that we wanted to travel together to Israel. Our schedules kept getting out of line while I was in college and after she had graduated. We lived together in New York City last year and talked about going on the trip all the time. We both were finally able to set aside a time this past summer to go and it was such an amazing experience for both of us.

Watch how Tori and her group celebrate Havdalah!

When deciding to go on this trip, I knew that I would want to vlog the whole thing. I have been posting on my YouTube channel for TEN YEARS (in February 2020) and I love documenting my life and sharing it with my audience. I always knew this was a trip that I would want to go back and look at over and over again after it was done and vlogging it was the perfect way to get to do this.

The experience that impacted me the most from my Birthright Israel trip was our time in the Bedouin tent and hiking Masada. This was the part of the trip I had heard about from Morgan, but also others who had been on the trip before me, as one of the coolest parts of the whole thing.

When we arrived at the Bedouin encampment, I feel like everyone in my group had just started to really get comfortable with each other. We were halfway through our trip and had just been introduced to the Mifgash (Israelis participants) joining us, and we were spending the night basically camping with a bunch of new people. I could feel this energy with everyone that we all knew the night we spent in the desert would be a pretty cool one.

Watch Tori’s video and see what her group learned on Kibbutz Harduf!

And it definitely was. We learned about Bedouin culture, got to enjoy some Bedouin food, and sat around the campfire at our tent singing songs and getting to know each other more. But the part of this night that will always stick out to me is when our Israeli guide, David, took our group out into the desert to look at the stars. The quiet, the peacefulness, the darkness – they were all so palpable when we got away from the camp. I didn’t feel scared at all in the darkness of night in the middle of the desert in a country I’ve never traveled to before. In reality, I felt so calm and collected. Staring up at the stars in a place where there’s no light pollution, I could see the Big Dipper and more stars than I think I’ve ever seen in my entire life. There was a point when David gave us some time to ourselves, to be alone with our thoughts. I got emotional when we did this. It all hit me in that moment – I was in Israel for the first time, I was with an amazing group of people, and I was on this trip I had dreamed about going on for many, many years. The reality of that was so wonderful to me that it made me cry.

And the next morning, very early, we went to see the sunrise on the Masada. We ran up the mountain to make sure we got to the sunrise in time. I think we hiked the whole thing in just under ten minutes. I definitely didn’t hydrate enough and was having a hard time with the hike, but I didn’t want to stop. I knew I had to get to the top to see the sunrise. And as we sat there in our group, watching the sun slowly rise across the water, I took a deep breath and felt so peaceful. I looked at everyone sitting next to me and felt an even stronger connection to my group. This group of forty, who were all basically strangers just mere days before this moment, we’re experiencing something so magical together, in a place that is so meaningful in our shared religion of Judaism. If that’s not an experience to remember, I don’t know what it is.

I am so unbelievably glad I got to go on Birthright Israel. It gave me an experience that I had craved for such a long time, as well as a new group of people to interact with as a Jewish adult.

My view of Judaism changed drastically for me in college because I went to the University of Utah. There was a very, very, very tiny community of Jewish people there and not many on my college campus. I was part of Hillel at the neighboring college, but I never really felt connected to Hillel there. It felt like I was being forced into a leadership position in the Hillel there because I was a Jewish person at my college who was very vocal about their religion and wanting to celebrate it. I knew a few other Jewish people on campus who didn’t want to share that they were Jewish. I felt like I lost some of my connection to Judaism during my four years in school because I wasn’t around as many Jews as I was used to from my youth in New Jersey.

But going on Birthright Israel helped me find a bit more of what I wanted out of my Judaism as an adult. I felt like I had trouble connecting with people my age who were Jewish in college, but Birthright Israel literally threw me into a group of forty other Jews and made me want to do more with my religion as I keep getting older. I am very thankful for this trip and this opportunity. It is such a great experience that I hope every other Jewish young adult gets to experience as well.