There’s something magical about the first bite into a falafel while on Birthright Israel. The taste of fried chickpeas mixed with tahini and pickles is the first taste of vibrant Jewish life for most participants. That bite into falafel signifies a craving for their newfound love of Israel and their own Jewish identity. And there is something so unforgettable about first-time experiences that makes you crave more.
Participants may have this first bite of falafel in Jerusalem after they’ve visited the Western Wall and associate this food with touching the cold stones or praying for a loved one. They may also eat falafel for the first time in the Bedouin tents, where they discover the beauty of the Negev and take a spiritual moment under the night’s sky.
Some participants may prefer falafel in wrapped in a laffa with eggplant, hard-boiled egg, and tahini, or they may prefer it on its own dipped in hummus. Sort of like how they are learning to adapt Judaism to their life, some may keep Shabbat or simply light candles with friends while others find their connection to Judaism through music. However, they choose to eat the falafel or embrace their Judaism is fine by us, as long as they do it in a way they favor most.
That’s why falafel and flavors of Israel, in general, are crucial to the educational programming of Birthright Israel. Whether those flavors are literal, like falafel and shawarma or representative of Zionism, Shabbat, and Kehillah, our goal is to provide a menu to young Jewish adults so they can find what they crave most about their Jewish identity.
Although we can’t guarantee they’ll find delicious falafel in their home country, we can ensure that they’ll never forget what it tastes like or that first bite while standing in the ever-so busy Shuk HaCarmel. And those first bites will stay with them forever but will come out in the form of volunteering, raising Jewish children, or hosting Shabbat dinner with friends and family.