My name is Jake Weiss and I currently live in Miami, Florida. I’m a 2017 alumnus of Birthright Israel, currently working as a business development analyst for a property management firm. I love sports, exercise, music, food, movies, and warm weather! I’m also someone who loves to travel and has a lot of pride being a Jew, so I always knew I wanted to go on Birthright Israel; I just didn’t know when or what kind of trip I wanted to do.
To tell my Birthright Israel story, I have first to explain how and why I arrived at the point of signing up when I did. My college journey began playing baseball at Eastern Michigan University. The rigorous schedule of a division one college athlete, the cold weather, and being far from the family had me in a dark place. I wasn’t happy and wanted to be a regular student. My parents had recently moved to South Florida, which immediately set my eyes on the University of Miami. Great academics, warm weather year-round, beaches, an electric city, good sports teams, and a big social scene. It had everything I wanted. The only negative was that I didn’t know a single person who attended Miami. I applied to other schools that most of my high school friends were at but ultimately went out on a whim and chose Miami, figuring the friend thing would work itself out.
Birthright Israel with the University of Miami’s Hillel
Transferring in the middle of a school year where you don’t know a single soul on campus is not easy. I tried getting involved in many different things to meet people. However, my first semester was tough. Everything about the school was perfect, and I was so happy to be there, but I struggled to make friends. Towards the end of the semester, I attended a social Shabbat dinner at the campus Hillel. That is where I heard about Birthright Israel. I knew you could do themed trips like adventure, food, spirituality, etc., but I was unaware of campus trips. When I learned about the University of Miami’s Hillel Birthright Israel trip I was thrilled. It was the perfect opportunity for me to meet friends at my new school, 80 of them to be precise. With no hesitation, I signed up.
My Birthright Israel trip from Miami consisted of two buses made up of 40 people on each. On our first day, I only began getting a feel for our group and the experience. It didn’t take long for me to realize that not only was this group all cliques of friends, but my bus was the “greek life” bus. It consisted of friend groups from many different fraternities and sororities…and then me. The first day was a little awkward and uncomfortable. Soon enough, I started to bond with the rest of the group. By the end of the second day, I was already so happy with my decision to go on Birthright Israel.
Every Day on Birthright Israel is a New Favorite
Every day of the trip was my new favorite day as it was just one amazing activity after the other. I really enjoyed visiting the Bedouin tents. It was so cool to learn about their culture, eat their food, and spend the night. I made sure to wake up before sunrise to wow at the beauty of the desert. Following that, we ride camels which was yet again another fun new experience for me. Next, we traveled to Tel Aviv, and I was awed at how amazing and modern it was. Here is where for the first time, I had grilled pineapple on a burger —it’s incredible. I tried other new foods like shakshuka and passionfruit wine which were absolutely delicious. The other highlight of my trip was Masada and The Dead Sea. Being Jewish, I heard about the Dead Sea so many times throughout my childhood. However, nothing can prepare you for what it’s like in person. It truly is a marvel and something you can’t experience anywhere else in the world. Our group’s hike up Masada in the Israeli summer heat was a struggle, but very well worth it as the views at the top were remarkable.
The trip was 10-days but it felt like 10 years. Not just because of how many activities we did in such little time, but also because of how quickly our group became one. More so, our bus had eight kids from the Beta Theta Pi fraternity and that’s where I felt I fit in the most. It was a no-brainer for me to join the following semester. The rest of my college experience turned out to easily be some of the best years ever. I know the friendships were made on Birthright Israel will last a lifetime. Lastly, it’s all just a fascinating butterfly effect that never would’ve happened if I didn’t go on Birthright Israel. This trip had an enormously positive impact on my life and I’m forever thankful for the opportunity!