Birthright is unlike anything else. Right after a 12-hour plane ride you’re squeezed into a bus with 37 people you’ve never met and somehow after 10 days of adventures, history lessons, nights out, and lots of sweat, you all become friends. Pretty incredible if you ask me.
I decided to go on Birthright because I knew it was going to be an experience of a lifetime. My brother and a bunch of my friends had gone and it was about time I see what all the fuss was about. In the beginning I was nervous about travelling halfway across the world with 30-plus complete strangers when the only things I knew about them was that they were around my age and Jewish. However, it turned out to be one of the best decisions for me because I met a lot of great people and learned a lot about myself too.
Before going to Israel I honestly did not know much about the country or its history other than what I’d learned about in Sunday school and high school world history classes. Throughout the trip we made many stops at historical sites and our tour guide would tell us the importance of them and the memorable events that may have happened there. For example, right after we got off the plane, we hopped onto the tour bus and headed out to Caesarea. There we stopped to talk about one of the country’s oldest amphitheatre that is still used for modern day concerts and some beautiful oceanside ruins. I could go on and on about all of the places we stopped and all the things I learned, but you’ll have to go on Birthright yourself (if you are between 18 and 32 years old) to find out the rest.
So why else should you go? Well for one, it’s basically a free trip to Israel! Other than airfare and a few other expenses, this trip is paid for by other Jews who want you to visit this incredible country! They want you to learn about yourself, Judaism, and Israel’s history in one of the most special ways possible – by being there! Not to mention I made some incredible friends along the way that I probably would have never met otherwise. There’s no better way to get to know people than doing everything together for 10 days straight. Everyone is there to have a good time and meet new people. I cannot stress how amazing it is to me just how close people can get in such a short amount of time. Lastly, something I did not expect was that at almost all of the places we went, which was a lot for only 10 days, vendors and passersby alike knew about the Birthright program and why we were there. They welcomed us wholeheartedly which, to me, truly made the trip feel complete.
I want to lastly share about what our Shabbat was like on Birthright. It started as an open discussion about what Shabbat meant to us and how we celebrated or observed it. That was when I learned how truly diverse of a group I was travelling with. There were some people who had little to no idea what Shabbat even was, a group of reform Jews like myself who celebrate occasionally, and some who were modern orthodox and are used to a more traditional weekly Shabbat service with a big family dinner to follow. It amazed me that all of these people with their various backgrounds all ended up on a Birthright trip. It goes to show that Birthright has made an impact on a wide range of Jewish communities and that is what is so special about this program! It brings people from all walks of life together for a once in a lifetime experience that they’ll never forget.
Michelle Villa is is in her 4th year of college. Michelle grew up in the community, attending Sunday and Hebrew school, while also participating in Camp Gan Shalom and Shabbaton. She was also a Camp Gan Shalom Counselor. To learn more about Birthright Israel, including information about the over 35 different kind of available trips and experiences, as well as how to apply, please visit birthrightisrael.com or call the Jewish Federation.