I heard about Birthright Israel from my friends in the army who participated in the program. They said it was their best experience during their military service and that it changed their entire view of the Jewish Diaspora. I thought they must be exaggerating. It’s only a few days, how significant can the experience be? Anyway, I decided to try it out. The day before leaving, I packed my things, and my friends asked me if I was excited. I answered that I was only going for five days, so it’s not that dramatic, and that surely the Americans will find it much more exciting. After all, I’m an Israeli who has already visited most of the places we’ll be, and the Americans come here as tourists.

The Start of My Birthright Israel Experience

The big day came. The bus of Americans was waiting for us, the Israelis, at a gas station, and one after the other, we got on, a little afraid of this new beginning. The Americans were sweet and welcomed us with thunderous applause. I quickly realized that although I’m the Israeli, on this trip, I will be a tourist. The Americans are a group of 40 people who know each other from college, and now, in my own country, I’m a minority. Also, in Israel, the language is Hebrew, but on this bus, the language is English. With all of this in mind, I was overwhelmed at first. I felt that I was going on an unknown adventure with people who were strangers to me. I have no idea how it happened so quickly, but within a few moments, I was caught up in a fluent conversation with one of the Americans, and the situation started getting better.

Friendships Begin

The first day continued and was full of fun and enriching attractions such as rafting, a visit to a winery, and a trip to the viewpoint of Mount Bental at the Golan Heights. At the end of the day, we arrived at the hotel, and the guide read who everyone was rooming with. At first, I thought I heard wrong, but then I realized I didn’t — I joined a room with two American girls. I couldn’t stop thinking to myself that maybe it was a good day, and I started connecting with them, but being the only Israeli in the room? What if I can’t communicate? We got to the room, unpacked our things, and from there, everything was history.

We sang songs, laughed, and talked about all the cultural gaps — starting with how it’s customary to celebrate in the place where each one lives, through the path of life that is accepted in the different countries, and ending with the place that Judaism occupies in the life of each of us.

From that moment in the hotel room, everything started to be different. The Americans were no longer strangers but became my friends. And, suddenly, Birthright Israel wasn’t just a collection of fun attractions but a real journey where I refined my identity and discovered different identities. I think that before this trip, I never thought about what Zionism is or what Judaism is, and what means to me and others.

Every Dollar Counts! Donate today and help send a young Jewish adult ona life-changing trip to claim their birthright.
Every Dollar Counts! Donate today and help send a young Jewish adult ona life-changing trip to claim their birthright.

On Birthright Israel, I was exposed to Americans who were passionate Zionists even though they had never visited Israel before and to people who, in conversation with the Rabbi, were curious and listened eagerly to hear what he had to say, even though they were secular and hadn’t set foot in a synagogue for years. I, a religious person who has lived in Israel all my life, suddenly realized that all over the world, there are Jews who are very different from me and yet are also so similar. I now understand there are endless ways to be Jewish.

The Beauty in Birthright Israel

I think the beautiful thing about Birthright Israel is that this experience allows this process to happen naturally. They don’t put us, the Israelis, on the same level as the instructors, and we don’t come to teach the Americans anything. What happens is that we are connected to a group of Americans as campers, thus allowing us to create real and authentic friendships. I think that through the fun of Birthright Israel comes depth and quality discourse. In addition to the fact that I gained lifelong friendships, I got to know the Diaspora Jews and learned that they are an inseparable part of Israel, even those who have never visited here. Now I know another world that I didn’t know before, and I hope that more Israelis will get to know it.