Finding Community and Connection in Israel on Birthright

If you didn’t think it was possible to make 40 friends within two days, or to feel an overwhelming sense of Jewish pride within seconds of walking off the plane, think again. No matter what your background or education in Judaism is, you are welcomed in Israel with open arms. The minute I walked off our 15-hour flight and into the airport, I was surrounded by 40 other overly excited twentysomethings and an immediate feeling of pride.

I grew up in a split household, with a Jewish mother and a Christian father, and never quite understood my religious identity. We celebrated Jewish holidays, but practicing religion was largely never incorporated into my life. Israel opened my eyes to understanding what it means to be Jewish, beginning simply with the opportunity to travel to Israel. One of the greatest discoveries I had was that “being Jewish” can pretty much mean anything, from eating latkes and challah, to attending synagogue.

On the second day of my Birthright-Israel trip, we went rafting down the Jordan River. We hopped on our rafts, barely knowing each other, and by the end of the river we knew each other probably a little too well. There was a level of comfort within the group of 40 strangers because of our common Jewish heritage and discovery of the unknown of Israel for the first time together. That same day, we went for a hike, ate some authentic Israeli food, and went to the Syrian border. The day felt unbelievably surreal. It was almost impossible to fathom where we were and all that we had done in a matter of 12 hours. The next day, in Tzfat, ranks as one of my personal favorites. Tzfat is everything you would expect an authentic, small, and quaint village in Israel to feel like – lined with beautiful cobbled streets, art galleries, handmade jewelry, and unbelievably tasty shawarma.

There were several moments on the trip where we would be in the middle of an activity and I would take a step back and feel my jaw drop from the realization of where I was, including a time when I was standing in the middle of the Negev Desert surrounded by silence, sand, and stars. I am not much of a spiritual person, but I remember specifically at this moment laying down in the sand in silence and looking up at the universe feeling incredibly fortunate for my life, this earth, and Israel. These blissful moments seemed to occur whenever we were in the most natural settings of Israel; being able to watch the sunrise at Masada is reason enough to go on Birthright. We got to watch the sunrise from the lowest point on the earth, arising from the sea. Although it was one of the quietest moments of the trip, it was a time to digest all of our adventures.

Getting out of my comfort zone and touring Israel with strangers was an experience so exceptional, I may never be able to put it in words for anyone to understand. To me, Birthright is this immense yet intimate culture that you become a part of for the rest of your life. It is a sense of identity and belonging, and a desire to tell people how proud you are to be Jewish. It is amazing the number of times I’ve overheard conversations of strangers in the U.S. or Europe, sharing experiences of Birthright. There is an instant connection and exchange of the stories and adventures we had with our bus group. To me, that is the most impactful part of the trip: the feeling of belonging to a culture I didn’t realize I was a part of before. Delving into the unknown of Israel for the first time is just the beginning of my journey into Jewish culture, and I will continue encouraging everyone that I meet who is Jewish to take this trip.

Participate in an unforgettable experience! Birthright-Israel hits all the senses: see amazing sunrises, taste fantastic food, touch ancient stones, hear mind-blowing stories, smell the great outdoors, and explore a fascinating country with Israeli peers.

The Federation is a proud supporter and financial sponsor of Birthright Israel trips for Bay Area residents ages 22-26. Registration begins September 5. Contact Jason Harris to find out more.

Categories: Israel, Young Adults


August 28, 2017


Rebecca Baxley