Nine days is hardly enough time to see an entire country, but Birthright sure does try to pack it all in and make it work. Our leaders and tour guide herded all 29 of us from one place to another to make sure we got the “authentic” experience. Sound contradictory to you? Me too. However, with the restraints the trip has, the trip did a pretty great job. I didn’t know what I was expecting, but in the end it was definitely a trip I’m happy I made.
What is Birthright?
Birthright is a trip to Israel for youth from 18 to 26 years old (there’s now also a 27 to 32 option) who have any sort of Jewish background. The trip is funded in part by the Israeli government, but primarily by donations (especially from a few super donor billionaires with known political leanings…). At the same time, Birthright says they are apolitical and mean to show Israel without bias. I think they may try to do this, but there will always at least be some bias and there is something to be said for looking for more information than just the facts that they give (same with information from any source, really).
In short, Birthright is the main organization, which pays
other tour services to actually lead the trips. Because of that, there are a
ton of different types of trips with different themes and goals. The trip I did
was called “Hi-Gear” and advertised outdoor adventure. There were other themes
like cooking, LGBT, classic, and history. Really a big, “choose your own Jewish
There are certain parts of every trip that is all the same, then extra sites depending on the trip type. In general, the trips are all pretty streamlined, so I’m not going to spend too much time on it. My trip went something like this:
Day one/Thursday: Get into Tel Aviv super late and drive 1 ½ hours to the hotel.
Day two/Friday: 6:30 am start then four hour drive south, hiking, short rappel, and night in Eilat.
Day three/Saturday: Shabbat. Geopolitical lecture and beach swimming. Night out in Eilat.
Day four/Sunday: Early morning hike and snorkeling in Eilat, then 4 hour drive to Tel Aviv. Night out in Tel Aviv.
Day five/Monday: 7 am breakfast to drive 1 ½ hours from Netanya to Tel Aviv. Day in Tel Aviv then driving 3 hours north.
Day six/Tuesday: Early morning hike then a glass of wine at a winery and rafting after.
Day seven/Wednesday: Early start to drive 3 hours back to Tel Aviv for the Holocaust Remembrance Museum. 2 hour drive south. Camping (getting to sleep around 12 am).
Day eight/Thursday: 3:30 am wake up to hike Masada and see the sunrise. Camel riding, the dead sea, and Krav Maga after dinner.
Day nine/Friday: Day in Jerusalem. Shabbat dinner.
Day ten/Saturday: Shabbat. Relaxing, packing, looking back on the trip. Then bus to the airport (for everyone not extending) at 1:30 am.
One prevailing factor on the trip: a whole lot of activity
and driving with a distinct lack of sleep. On the other hand, we covered a lot
of ground, spent a lot of time outside, and learned a lot about Israel and
different people’s perspectives on being Jewish. The good and bad of a packed
If you’ve read any of my past posts, you’ll know I usually travel solo. This was very different. We clogged sidewalks and took over restaurants. I was now a part of the matching-shirt-lanyard-wearing groups that I try to avoid. Add in my general introverted tendencies, and big groups can get overwhelming. Half the time, I’d almost guiltily pass up going for drinks with everyone to sit in my room by myself instead.
We were shuttled around, told interesting information about the places we saw, and spoon fed facts about the culture. I shut my brain off and enjoyed the ride, but I wouldn’t call it an active learning experience. I only really put the cities together when I was on my own taking the bus through Jerusalem and the train to and from Tel Aviv.
On the other hand, the people I met on the trip made being in a group worth it. In some ways, it turned into a classic high school scene with cliques and status. At the same time, everyone was nice, welcoming and no one acted “better” than anyone else. There wasn’t a single person in the group you couldn’t have a productive, fun, or interesting conversation with. Hearing other people’s stories and perspectives was probably the most memorable part of the trip.
Mid-way through the trip, I created a goal to get candid photos of every person in our group. I wanted to get photos of people when they weren’t posing, but just being themselves. I did better for some photos than for others. By the end, getting all 30+ became a bit of a rush order and I admit, some people’s photos ended up posed. A good portion of the group also probably saw me taking what looked like creepy stalker photos. Some of the photos I was pretty happy with though. At one point, maybe I’ll post all of them (with everyone’s permission of course) but for now, a couple of my favorites.