Upon taking my first steps into Jerusalem, I felt all of these emotions rush through me, and I immediately knew I was home. For the first, and maybe only, time in my life, I was able to look around and see that I was not alone in my Jewish faith…It is etched in the Western Wall, woven into the history that defines the city…I will never forget this feeling and am privileged that Birthright Israel helped me experience Jerusalem firsthand.
2018 Birthright Israel Alumna
Trip Staff and Group
Meet at the Airport with Fellow Participants and the Trip Staff A Remarkable Birthright Israel Journey Begins
The first day of a Birthright Israel trip begins at the airport. Here, participants meet their madrichim (trip staff) and fellow bus mates before boarding the plane for the trip of a lifetime. Hopefully, they can get some shuteye before the adventures begin.
Our trip staff plays a crucial role in our educational programming and each participant’s experience. Every Birthright Israel trip includes a three-person educational team of two volunteer staff members from the participants’ home country and a qualified Israeli tour educator.
Once the group arrives at their first destination, usually the hotel or lunch at a local Israeli restaurant, the tour educator opens the trip with a discussion. During this time, the tour educator, and the trip staff set the tone for the participant’s Birthright Israel journey. Participants are encouraged to ask questions and engage in dialogue and the staff works to ensure each participant feels comfortable in doing so. The stage is now set for the experience of a lifetime.
One of the trip’s primary objectives is to motivate participants to explore their Jewish identities through a peer educational experience of historical and contemporary Israel. This is made possible by each trip having qualified madrichim (trip staff) who volunteer their time. The madrichim are also trained in all things Birthright Israel to ensure they create an environment for learning. The Israeli tour educators must also complete courses through Birthright Israel’s tour educator institute, where they learn how to conduct meaningful dialogues and discuss challenging topics facing today’s young Jewish adults.
For participants to be able to say, 'I went to Israel and I saw this. This is what’s happening,' is powerful and impactful. It gives the next generation their own Israel experience, which translates into a stronger perspective and voice.
Birthright Israel Trip Staff
Galilee and Tiberias
Travel North to the Sea of Galilee and Tiberias Join Israeli Peers and See Ancient Archaeological Sites
The Sea of Galilee, also known as the Kinneret, is an area filled with archaeological ruins and is one of the first settled sites in Israel. Tiberias is the largest city near the Sea of Galilee and is considered holy in Judaism. During the Roman Empire, most of the population of Tiberias was Jewish and 13 synagogues were built. Part of the Jerusalem Talmud was even recorded in Tiberias.
For many Birthright Israel groups, Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee present an opportunity to learn about the many rulers of ancient Israel, how Jewish life survived under oppression, and how Tiberias to this day is still thriving with Jewish life.
Many groups may meet up with their Mifgashim (Israeli peers) on the way to northern Israel. The Mifgash are one of the most transformational elements of every trip. In Hebrew, Mifgash means to encounter and during every trip, participants are given the opportunity to meet Israeli soldiers and young professionals. This allows participants to explore Israel’s culture and society. The Israeli participants deliver an intimate and highly personal dynamic that enables Diaspora participants to to explore and understand complex issues. Some groups may hike the Kinneret Trail with their Israeli peers as an opportunity to connect and engage in conversation. It is a chance for Israeli and Jews in the Diaspora to learn from each other and build a friendship that extends beyond the Birthright Israel trip. More so, as they walk the landscape of the Old Testament, participants develop a deep personal connection to our homeland and our ancestors who came before us.
By including Israelis on the Birthright Israel trip, it enables both the Diaspora participants and the Israelis to explore their personal identity and relationship to Israel through genuine interactions with each other. It also provides participants the chance to further engage in what their Jewish identities mean and to learn more about each other’s cultures, daily lives, and how Israel, Judaism, and the Jewish people play a role.
Spending time and learning from the Israelis on our trip gave me a different way to look at Israel. Often the only view I have is through the media, and that can be very one-sided. Learning and listening to the soldiers, tour guides, and medic on the trip, I was able to see Israel from a different point of view and see a clearer picture of what Israel truly is.
2018 Birthright Israel Alumna
and the Land of Israel in Tzfat
Driving Connection to Jewish Culture and the Land of Israel in Tzfat Jewish Art, Music, Poetry, Dance, and History in the City of Kabbalah
One of the key vehicles for understanding Israel is through its cultural aspects: music, poetry, art, dance, and architecture are several elements that reflect expressions of the language, lore, feelings, and values of daily life in Israeli society. Many Birthright Israel groups will use Tzfat as the educational backdrop for exploring arts and culture—a core theme of each trip.
Tzfat is nicknamed the “City of Kabbalah” since Kabbalistic scholars, thinkers, and artists fled to the town during the Spanish Inquisition in the 16th century. Throughout the centuries Jews and Kabbalah artists and scholars made this mountaintop town their haven. Lecha Dodi, “come, my friend,” a hymn created to welcome Shabbat was also written here.
Many synagogues were established in the city such as the ARI Sephardi Synagogue, Abuhav Synagogue, and the Haari Ashkanazi Synagogue. Each one has a special and unique history that Birthright Israel groups get to explore. Another highlight of trips is visiting Tzfat’s artist quarter, where many participants speak with local artisans and purchase Mezuzot, candles, and Judaica to take home.
In Tzfat, many groups may also visit the Kahal National Heritage Site, a 16th-century excavation area that contains old structures, communal areas, underground rooms, and crawl spaces. The site allows groups to learn more about the importance of community, Kehillah, in Judaism. Following this, they may have a meditation session on the observation deck overlooking gorgeous views of northern Israel at the Tzfat Tourist Information Center run by Livnot U’Lehibanot.
In Tzfat, Birthright Israel’s Self-Exploration Module may be a main activity. During this module, the participants are given a map and the opportunity to explore Israeli society and culture through everyday encounters. This educational setting allows young adults to develop a sense of curiosity about ideas and topics not introduced through the structured itinerary. More so, the self-exploration module strengthens the participants’ sense of independence, maturity, and responsibility while on the program.
I think this trip not only solidified my deep love for Israel, but it also made me hungry for more history, more art, more culture from Israel. I want other Jewish people to experience the family, the mishpacha, that I got to experience. Everyone should be able to have the moment where they feel that they have arrived home.
2021 Birthright Israel Alumna
Heights and Geopolitics
Exploring The Golan Heights and Geopolitics Gaining Important Perspective on Israel's Place in the Middle East
On day four of a Birthright Israel trip, groups may visit the Golan Heights and Mt. Bental. In the Golan Heights, participants learn about Kibbutzim and their role in shaping modern Israel. Some may even visit Kibbutz Merom Golan, the first Kibbutz established in the region during the 1967 war. From the lookout at the Kibbutz, Birthright Israel participants gain a real understanding of Israel’s location in the Middle East as they can clearly see the border with Syria and Lebanon. A geopolitical expert will join the group for a mandatory geopolitics lecture at this point in the journey. It is here that the program introduces and discusses openly key issues necessary for understanding the region and today’s political climate. This particular aspect of the trip gives young Jewish adults the opportunity to ask tough questions in a safe environment as they begin to form their own opinions.
From this activity, it is common to hike Mt. Bental, which is most known for its significance in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 where it served as one of the largest tank battles in history. Many Tour Educators will speak about the Yom Kippur War and explain why the valley they are looking at is called the Valley of Tears. It is also common for the Israeli participants to share stories of family members who also fought in the various battles.
And of course, the group will have some fun and head down into the Banyas and enjoy the natural pools, waterfalls, and streams. From there, they may take a visit to one of the Golan’s local wineries and learn about winemaking and its significance of it to Judaism.
While the trip cannot encompass an advanced study of the complex nature of Israel’s overall geopolitical reality, we feel it is nonetheless educationally vital to help young Jewish adults learn about and reflect upon the core issues in this central and often sensitive area. Most all, the lecture and discussion will assist them in addressing these issues in relation to their own lives and experiences back home.
and the Western Wall
Visiting Jerusalem and the Western Wall
B'nai Mitzvah, Exploring
the Old City, and More
The Western Wall, also known as the Kotel or “Wailing Wall,” is the most religious site in the world for the Jewish people and one of the most anticipated moments of the Birthright Israel trip. The Western Wall is a chief landmark of Jewish history and tradition, attracting Jews of all backgrounds and affiliations, making it a microcosm of the Jewish world.
Visiting the Kotel on Birthright Israel is a mandatory activity for each group. King Herod built it in 20 BCE as he was expanding the Second Temple and the Romans destroyed it in 70 CE. Only a small area of the wall could be seen and used for prayer until the Six Day War in 1967 when Israelis were able to dig below the ground and expose two more levels.
Today, a large plaza exists in front of the Western Wall, and it is used as a location for military inductions, B’nai mitzvah, and various other ceremonies. Every Birthright Israel participant is given time to think and reflect while writing their note that they will place into the wall. Some participants even carry messages from family and friends to Israel to put into the wall.
After visiting the Western Wall, groups will explore the Old City into the various cultural quarters, where they will hear the Adhan, Muslim Call to Prayer, and church bells, providing a unique opportunity to understand Israel’s diverse makeup of people, religions, and culture.
The Western Wall symbolizes the bond between the Jewish people and the land of Israel while also eliciting profound contemporary questions regarding pluralist Jewish expressions, Israel-Diaspora relations, religion, and state in Israel, to name a few—making it an indispensable landmark in the educational journey of Birthright Israel’s participants.
Many tour educators take extra care in making this moment extremely special for their participants. Some may walk the group backward towards the Kotel while others blindfold the group, take them to a lookout, and surprise the group with incredible views of the Wall and Jerusalem. Visiting the Western Wall also allows many to become a bar or bat mitzvah while on Birthright Israel, something participants who never had the chance to do before, decide to at the holiest place in Judaism.
We had a symbolic bar and bat mitzvah ceremony at the Western Wall for anyone who wanted to have one…I expected the ceremony to be just something that I was going to do just because of the symbolism, but it became so much more than that thanks to the absolutely wonderful people that I was surrounded by.
2019 Birthright Israel Alumnus
Holiest City in the World
Experience Shabbat in Jerusalem, the Holiest City in the World Discover What Shabbat Means to You, Israelis, and Jews Around the World
Shabbat is another core theme of Birthright Israel’s educational programming, and many groups try to spend at least one Shabbat in Jerusalem. To experience Shabbat in Israel offers young Jews a unique way to discover what Shabbat can mean to them. On a Birthright Israel trip, the group will explore Shabbat in various contexts such as community, learning, and a newfound sense of spirituality many have not experienced before. It is required that each Birthright Israel group participate in a Kabbalat Shabbat (preparing for Shabbat) either at a local synagogue, the hotel, or outdoors that encompasses prayer, poetry, or a unique kind of celebration.
The group will also participate in a Shabbat meal at an Israeli home or together in the hotel. Birthright Israel encourages all groups to use the Sabbath for discussion and reflection.
Many topics spoken about between the Israeli participants and those in the Diaspora are Shabbat in Israel versus Shabbat in the Diaspora, the role Shabbat plays in maintaining Jewish unity, the future of Shabbat in Jewish life, and various discussions of Jewish values. And, since Day 6 is halfway through the journey, this is an excellent time for the trip tie-in session where the group is given time to process and reflect on what they have learned and experienced so far.
Going to the Kotel on Shabbat was an incredible experience I will cherish for the rest of my life. Seeing how much life, spirit, and emotions there were made me fall in love with my religion all over again…I will hopefully send my kids on a Birthright [Israel] trip one day.
2018 Birthright Israel Alumna
Experiencing the Yad Vashem Memorial & Museum and Har Herzl The Shoah's Place in the Jewish Story and Testimony From Survivors
After finishing a restful and reflective Shabbat, a Birthright Israel group may conclude their time in Jerusalem to visit Yad Vashem and Har Herzl. Every Birthright Israel experience incorporates a meaningful and well-contextualized encounter with the Shoah (Holocaust, from the Hebrew word for “catastrophe”), introducing its place in Jewish life and Israel and its relation to the Jewish narrative in today’s world.
Many groups learn about the Holocaust by visiting Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. Yad Vashem is a 45-acre complex on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem. It houses various museums, Holocaust research and education centers, monuments, and memorials. The Valley of Communities and the Children’s Holocaust Memorial are a few exhibits within the complex.
While at Yad Vashem or another approved Shoah heritage site, Birthright Israel groups also hear a personal testimony from a Holocaust survivor and may even meet a survivor in person. “Never Again” becomes the theme of an animated and emotional discussion for participants when they explore the connection with the Holocaust and issues concerning today’s antisemitism and anti-Zionism.
After Yad Vashem, groups will walk to Har Herzl (Mount Herzl), Israel’s national cemetery located at the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem. Har Herzl is where Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism, tomb sits along with many of Israel’s great leaders, including Golda Meir, Levi Eshkol, Yitzhak Rabin, and Shimon Peres.
The opportunity to visit Har Herzl gives young Jews a chance to learn about the founders, visionaries, and fallen heroes that made Israel a reality. A core mission of the program is to allow participants to understand Israel’s founding vision to be a Jewish and democratic state. A trip to Mt. Herzl represents an essential piece of the Jewish narrative and those who fought to preserve it.
A visit to a Shoah (Holocaust) heritage site in Israel is a mandatory educational aspect of each trip.
Visiting Yad Vashem is a memory I will cherish forever. It was not fun or enjoyable, but it will forever impact me and how I view the world. After visiting the museum, I believe it's a moment every Jew should experience.
2018 Birthright Israel Alumnus
Float in the Dead Sea
Time to Hike Up Masada and Float in the Dead Sea
Two Primary Highlights of
Every Birthright Israel Trip
On Day 8 of a Birthright Israel trip, participants may wake exceptionally early for the much-anticipated hike up Mt. Masada to watch a breathtaking sunrise. Masada is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an ancient Jewish fortress that sits high on a plateau above the Dead Sea. King Herod built the fortress in 30 BCE, and at the time of the great revolt against the Roman Empire in 68 CE, a group of Jewish zealots conquered Masada, and it became their last stronghold.
However, the Romans besieged Masada and reached the fortress, but the nearly 1,000 Jews living at the top chose to commit suicide rather than give up their religion and fall to the Romans. The history and significance of Masada fit perfectly into the Birthright Israel journey. The Jewish history of Masada represents the resilience of the Jewish people, heroism, and most of all, courage. The story of Masada is a key element for young Jewish adults on Birthright Israel as it ties them to the history of their ancestors and shows them that they, too, like the ancient Judeans, are resilient.
After Masada, the group will hike down the mountain or take the cable car and go for a float in the Dead Sea. They may also visit the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, one of Israel’s most popular national parks. From here, the group will continue traveling throughout the Negev Desert and spend the evening at Kfar Hanokdim, a Bedouin village. In the village, the group will meet with the local Bedouin population and further understand the diversity of Israel.
To me, Masada represents the strength of the Jewish people and the preservation of Judaism in the face of adversity. Standing on top of the mountain and gazing out over the Dead Sea, watching the Israeli flag fluttering in the wind, was a profound moment for me.
2018 Birthright Israel Alumna
Shalom, Tel Aviv! Visit Independence Hall, Rothschild Blvd., and the Rest of This Modern City
As the group nears the end of their Birthright Israel trip, they will spend time in the White City, otherwise known as Tel Aviv. Strolling down Rothschild Blvd they will see the juxtaposition of old and new: coffee shops lining the streets with Israel’s Independence Hall placed neatly in between. At Independence Hall, the group will hear an audio recording of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion reading Israel’s Declaration of Independence from May 14, 1948. Hearing this original recording allows young Jews to take themselves back in time to the founding of the modern State of Israel and reflect on this vital moment in Jewish history.
Continuing through the heart of the city, the group will further explore Rothschild Blvd. One of the essential educational factors of the trip is to explore Israel’s role in the modern global arena of innovation, entrepreneurship, science, and technology, and there is no better place than Tel Aviv. The discussion around innovation in Israel also allows young Jews to challenge preconceived and often stereotypic notions they may have of Israel or Israeli society by broadening their understanding of contemporary Israel.
After a busy day, the group will have dinner at a local Israeli restaurant and enjoy the nightlife of the city during their evening of free time. Whether it is a stroll on the beach, a visit to a nightclub or café, participants will see just how modern the State of Israel is.
I had such a profound experience that I extended my stay in Tel Aviv an extra 10 days…I absolutely fell in love with the people, culture, vibrancy, food, beach, and energy surging through the city. I would do Taglit 100 times if I could and I encourage anyone and everyone who is on the fence to just go!
2021 Birthright Israel Alumna
It’s Not Goodbye, It’s Lehitraot Shopping at the Shuk and an Art Tour Before Heading Back
After eating a traditional Israeli breakfast, participants will visit Shuk HaCarmel and go on a graffiti tour in Tel Aviv before departing Israel. Shuk HaCarmel (Carmel Market) is Israel’s largest outdoor marketplace filled with souvenirs, fresh fruit and vegetables, and classic Israeli food like falafel, hummus, and shawarma. Walking the market gives young Jews the opportunity to interact with Israelis and practice their Hebrew—something participants react to with great enthusiasm, having been immersed in a Hebrew-speaking society for the past nine days.
Within the alleyways of Shuk HaCarmel live vibrant graffiti artworks that tell tales and stories of many Israelis. The graffiti art tour guide explains the meaning behind several murals, which gives young Diaspora Jews a glimpse into the Israeli mindset, politics, and thoughts on daily life in the holy land.
Many tour educators will use the downtime after the tour for the final trip discussion before heading to the airport. Together, the group will reflect on their Birthright Israel experience and discuss how they will use it to impact their future. Birthright Israel does not believe in saying goodbye, but saying, “Lehitraot,” which translates to “see you later,” because we know their Jewish journeys and relationship with Israel has only just begun.
I finally felt Jewish. I didn't have to hide it anymore. I was proud of it and I was surrounded by people who supported me and knew the same proud feeling I have. I can't think a single moment where I felt, 'Well that was fun. Time to go home.'
2018 Birthright Israel Alumnus