8 Tips to Know with Birthright Israel

Extras, Ideas, Israel, Middle East, Spiritual Travel, Tours & Attractions — By on February 17, 2011 at 6:00 am

To prepare for a journey with Taglit-Birthright Israel, a program that provides educational, first-time trips to Israel for Jewish young adults, Maggie Parker suggests these eight tips to better enjoy this experience.

There are guns everywhere, and the program leaders and staff will try to get you to move to Israel. These were the two main “warnings” people shared when I was preparing for my Birthright trip. These are the most often shared tips though, and, because of all the “cult” accusations, it seems the second warning isn’t as common anymore. I came across a few other pointers that would have been helpful to have known beforehand.

It took me a while to decide to go on Birthright. All of my friends went a few years ago, when I had no interest in waking up early to look at a bunch of Orthodox Jews. I am so glad that I waited about 5 years before applying for a trip, because I definitely wasn’t ready for this experience back then. I still didn’t really care to go when I applied, but my friend made me and I now have thanked her a thousand times for it. This trip can affect you in so many ways, not just having to do with religion or heritage. I know a big concern for travelers is feeling bombarded by Judaism and being forced to connect to it. I can’t speak for all trips, but I didn’t feel that way at all, and most people on my trip would agree with me. We were taught about Israel, Judaism and Israeli culture, then left to process everything however we wanted; our leaders weren’t trying to influence us into staying in Israel. They just wanted us to get the best out of the trip, which I definitely did. Also, it’s free!

1. It’s okay to go solo.

I am very outgoing, so I wasn’t too afraid to go by myself on my trip. There were a lot of other people who also came alone. Some of them were extremely shy but came alone anyway and had no trouble making friends. Most likely you will not be the only person who doesn’t come with friends and even the ones who do want to meet other people. There were only 4 pairs of people on my trip that knew each other beforehand. In my opinion, going alone makes the trip that much more powerful. It enables you to be completely stripped and have a clean slate, ready to create memories and change your life. You will form strong bonds with the people you are traveling with and you will become best friends within a day. You will not be alone on this trip (unless you want to be) no matter whom you know beforehand. This is the perfect opportunity to challenge yourself to be independent. It makes it easier to self-reflect, and this trip definitely results in a lot of reflecting.

2. Remember: This isn’t “Spring Break: Israel.”

While you may not get a lot of sleep on this trip, it won’t be because you were out partying in the clubs all night. Granted all trips are different, but with the majority of stories I’ve heard–mine included–they do not involve nightly partying. You are getting up at around 7 a.m. everyday and you are out all day walking. It is extremely exhausting and a lot of people just crash when they get back to the hostel. There is a middle ground though. My friends and I stayed up talking and drinking wine until we were falling asleep. I was tired the next morning, but it was worth getting to know my fellow travelers. I am someone who needs a lot of sleep, but I didn’t even notice how tired I was during the day because I was too distracted by all the amazing sights and people around me. There were a few people on my trip who openly said they had expected this to be a party trip, and they were unpleasantly surprised (although they definitely didn’t care in the end because Israel is too amazing to stay mad). There were two “free nights” and we decided to go to clubs, but other than that we were required to stay in the hostels at night. Like I said, all trips differ, but keep this is mind when deciding to go. It is not “The Jersey Shore: Israel” either.

3. You might fall in love and want to stay.

At least one person from every trip I’ve ever heard about has, and about four people on my trip did (I may be included in this count to some extent). Israelis are very interesting people, therefore you may become attached to them on your trip. They are smart, brave, fun, and caring, all in one; there will be tears shedding when they leave. I went thinking I would probably hang by myself most of the time, and definitely not fall in love with an Israeli. Oops. I made lifelong friendships, and may have had a romance with an Israeli. These are 10 very intense days, anything can happen. Any feelings that flare up are intensified by the fact that you are in Israel with these people. I asked my guide, who has lead 4 trips, and he said it is totally normal to want to stay in Israel or go back right away, but most people never do it. I’ll keep you posted on that one.

4. The weather isn’t always warm.

A lot of the people on my trip brought sandals and shorts. When I asked them why they didn’t bring warmer clothes, they said, “because Israel is warm!” That is false. There are times when Israel is cold and wet, so check the weather before you leave, as it is different in every part of the country. Just be prepared and don’t assume it’s always sunny beach weather.

5. Learn to let go.

If you are like me, you plan every second of your trip. This is not the kind of trip that you will have control over, as everything is planned for you. You won’t even be able to print out your boarding pass. It’s okay though. Birthright has been in existence since 1999, they know what they are doing. So let go of the reigns and enjoy not having to stress out about what hostel you will stay at and how you will get from one city to the next.

6. Israelis know quite well about protection and safety.

One of my doubts was about safety. We all know Israel is not the safest place and I wasn’t sure how smart it was to go there voluntarily. There is a lot of consideration that needs to be done before deciding to go, depending on what is going on there at the time. But just know this: Israelis, of all people, know what they are doing when it comes to safety and security, they have had a lot of practice. The tour guides won’t take you anywhere that is unsafe, even if it is already in the itinerary.

7. Everyone gets dirty.

Everyone is gross and covered in dirt, bottom line. Pack accordingly with a few nice outfits for Shabbat and evenings out in Israel. I am not outdoorsy at all but there were only like 2 real hikes followed by beautiful views, so I survived. I just got pretty grossed out by how covered in dirt my clothes were. Get used to it.

8. No matter how “Jewish” you are, you will be affected by this trip.

I went on a reform trip. There were people there who had never stepped in a synagogue, and a girl whose dad is a reform Rabbi. The spectrum is large. It doesn’t matter though because I think every Jewish person can feel at home in Israel. Your religious background will not affect your trip. You will be moved by what you see and how connected you feel, even if you have never uttered a Hebrew word in your life and have no idea why a holiday is called Passover. Be prepared to be emotionally jarred.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg, but my most important piece of advice would be to go. I know there are a lot of things to consider, and I considered them all over and over for about 5 years, but I am so glad I put all my doubts aside and went. I made best friends, fell in love, learned about my religion, and saw a beautiful country for free. I am not going to go back to temple and become a Rabbi, but it definitely changed my life. I am not sure exactly how yet since I’ve only been back for 4 days, but I definitely know that I’ve been changed for good.

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  • Myriah says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I was just browsing the Internet while getting ready for my birthright trip and I found this really helpful in just calming my nerves and getting into the right mindset. Thanks 🙂

  • Sarah says:

    Basically, I’m here for the same reason Myriah was. This was an excellent post, thank you SO much! I’m super shy and I’ve never traveled with so many people before… This made me a little less nervous. Thank you thank you!

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