10 Days of Balagan
Birthright Israel through the eyes of a Discover Israel participant
What you will get from Birthright, an amazing taste of as much “balagan” (craziness) that can be crammed into 10 days, to see a country that could take years to fully “Taglit” (discover). I will try to briefly explain our itinerary and my experience, but remember my story is just one story of the many stories of the 600,000 Birthright participants. It starts as you’re waiting for your boarding pass, with hundreds of other people on this same journey. After hours of trying to get to know everyone on the plane, we finally landed at Ben Gurion Airport. Our first full day in Israel began with an early morning walk with one of my “roomies” around the kibbutz, which overlooked Lebanon. That day we went on two hikes in Northern Israel. One through the Banias, a beautiful waterfall which we hiked through, and then to the top of a valley overlooking Syria and the Golan Heights, otherwise known as Mount Bental.
By the fourth day of the trip, we were in Jerusalem and experienced the breathtaking history it has to offer. Every corner of the city, in every building, at any point hit home to me and understod what it means to be in Israel, where it came from, where it’s going. With the Western Wall behind us, we each had a chance to get a Bar or Bat Mitzvah if we did not have one when we were younger. Everyone came with a different story and different meaning. I can only speak for myself, but it was way more impactful than a traditional service for such event.
That night brought us into our first Shabbat together, where we feasted as kings, danced our tail feathers off and came together as a family, as if we had known each other for years. For me the trip hadn’t come to full force yet, it was all a build up to the next couple of days. On Sunday morning, we got the chance to explore the Salad Trail, which in a couple words, was an incredible luscious farm in the desert. Literally in the Negev desert. I ventured off as much as I could, so I could eat anything and everything. As a chef, seeing all this produce and the abundance of flowers in front of my eyes, waiting to be picked and eaten was like a kid in a candy store.
We spent our night, in what I can only describe to you as huge canvas tents, in the Bedouin Tents, where we only got 4 hours of sleep if you were lucky, because we left at 2 or 3 in the morning to catch the sunrise in Masada! I couldn’t possibly explain that morning on Masada and do it justice, and I won’t try. The people there and the jaw dropping views deserve to be seen in person. While this morning was simply amazing in every way, we still had the descent down the Snake Path, a feat in its own, a marvelous time at the En Gedi waterfalls, and what more could we ask for? The Dead Sea! We all became sea monsters together as we lathered ourselves and each other with the famous Dead Sea mud!
That night, like all other nights was incredible but there was a vibe I know I felt, that I hadn’t felt yet on the trip yet. The kibbutz we stayed at captivated me, making me never want to leave both Israel and part from my newfound family. Israel never seemed to disappoint and whenever you feel you’ve found something special, you turn the corner to find something even more astonishing. On our last day, all the Birthright groups, in all of Israel, took over the city of Tel Aviv, and boy did we have an amazing time! The city of Tel Aviv isn’t like any other I’ve been to and there is this vibe that is felt amongst all the people. Our last true night spent together was purely incredible. Again the Birthright community came together for an EPIC concert where the easiest way for me to explain this, is through the eyes of others staring at our group, asking themselves, “Should we make fun of them or join them?” While yes, to an outsider, we might have looked crazy, but for me I have never felt more comfortable.
Like all Birthright trips it had to come to an end, however the friendships I made will last forever. I know I will recognize each and every one of my fellow “Regulators” for life and will greet them with the biggest smile and hug when I undoubtedly will see them again in the future. I hope this small taste of my amazing trip has painted a picture, that I could paint for days, is a true testament to the value of this trip. I challenge anyone to say yes, be that 650,000 participant, sign up and come to a place that is truly home. While it isn’t ever going to be a brisk walk in the park in Israel, the challenges you overcome make you into a better person. My point to you is, accept the challenges, roll with the punches, be at the front of your group, but slow down so you’re at the back of the pack, because along the way you’ll meet, in my case, 52 other like-minded, absolutely incredible souls.