Ten Days in a Nutshell - Birthright Israel
Meet One of Our Past Israel Adventure Participants
Alex Jedd was born and raised in New Jersey. Alex studied Aquatic and Coastal Scienes at Montclair State Univeristy and now works in a real-estate firm. Read Alex's blog to find out why his Birthright Israel experience on our Israel Adventure trip was so life-changing!
I finally signed up for Birthright Israel's Israel Adventure trip with Israel Experts after several years of being told to do so by family and it may just have been the best thing I’ve ever done. My family is very non-religious to the point where we didn’t celebrate holidays growing up, never went to a church or synagogue, and definitely never attended Hebrew school. Maybe the reason I put this off so long was my disassociation with religion and my fear that the trip would just be ten days of constant Judaism crammed down my throat in an effort to convert me to the Jewish faith. But I decided I could use a break from work, that a trip to the Middle East would be different and at the very least I would meet some new people. So I went through the birthright application process, got placed on a trip and gave it no additional thought until the week of.
The day of the trip I got dropped off at the airport and started walking to where the groups Facebook discussion suggested everyone was meeting. As I strolled into the food court and walked towards the bar the group had laid claim to I was immediately greeted by a dozen of the most attractive people I could have expected. Conversations started easily and as it turned out I had briefly gone to school with one of the other trip members. We then traveled as a group to meet up with the rest of the trip members and our leadership team.
As I expected the first hour or so was filled with ice breakers and games to help us learn every ones names. I’m normally pretty lousy with names but found that as the group went around the circle I was actually retaining most if not every ones. Finally we made it through security and onto the first plane on our long journey to the Middle East. Some 5,000,000 hours later we landed in Tel Aviv and already I felt as though I was traveling with friends. At our first hotel we all awed at the food spread and shared plates of hummus while sharing what we did for a living and marveling at the many connections we had in common. It seemed as though everyone knew someone who knew someone.
The next day things started off big. First we climbed a mountain as a group and it honestly felt as though we stopped for group shots every ten minutes, many of the stops orchestrated by myself. Although we barely knew each other every one helped those that needed and a selfie was being snapped in groups of two or three constantly. You would have thought we had known each other for years. The landscape was stunning and every ten feet I felt compelled to take another dozen landscape shots on my camera. We made it down the mountain and then it was off to a five mile bike ride through the Golan Heights, which was amazing, then drove up to the top of Mt Bental where we watched the sun go down from the site of one of Israel’s most courageous battles. The bar for the rest of the trip was set very high after just this one day.
Everywhere we went the scenery was stunning. We spent the next few days in various cities such as Tzfat and Haifa which each had a unique beauty of their own. In Tzfat I had a moment where a man pulled me to the side and asked me to put on the tefillin and read a short prayer while I was walking with a few of my new friends. Having never done a prayer before and surely mispronouncing most of the words I found more meaning in participating then I expected I would and cherished the kabbalah string he gave me afterwards more than anything else I picked up the entire trip.
Each city we went to had a different feel and the experiences were made more meaningful by the company I traveled with. When we made it to Jerusalem we experienced the Western Wall as a group and shared in its profoundness. When we went to Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust museum, we all wept together and helped each other through. As we toured Mt Herzl, Israel military cemetary, in the rain on a day thick with fog we all embraced each other for warmth and comfort as our guide and IDF companions shared heart wrenching stories of loss and overwhelming stories of compassion as we passed each grave.
Apart from the moving religious and historical sites we also enjoyed many areas geared more towards fun. In the city of Eilat we ate dinner by the side of the sea and walked along the brightly lit boardwalk. In the city of Jerusalem we partied at bars in the shuk and danced to live music with the locals. We even got to travel to the west bank where we had a BBQ at our guides house and enjoyed smoking hookah while looking out at a city we had all been warned was dangerous. The whole experience left me thinking that much of what I thought I knew was wrong and that the country was not just beautiful, but full of a unique culture and strong willed, compassionate people.
Throughout the experience we shared great joy as we accomplished intense hikes up steep mountains, profound sadness as we learned of the ongoing struggles of the Jewish peoples, tremendous laughter as embarrassing moments brought the group to tears and through it all we went from being complete strangers to truly being mishpacha. Although my trip was short, the memories and friendships I made along the way will be some of my most cherished. I can’t wait to return to Israel and hope to be back in Tel Aviv soon!
Oh, and one last point. The food was AMAZING everywhere!
You can check your birthright eligibility right here.