By Shira Hartman
I was born in Israel and moved to Boston when I was five years old. Living in Boston all my life, I still consider Israel my home. But every time I go, I only visit family in Ariel and Hod Hasharon without extending myself outside my family bubble and into the unique aspects of the country. Going on the “Birthright Israel” program opened my eyes to the history and culture of Israel, which I wouldn’t have realized on a trip visiting my family.
As the end of the semester approaches, we often think about spending our break somewhere with nice weather and no snow. If you have at least one Jewish parent, this opportunity could be possible. Birthright would allow you a free airplane ticket to Israel and huge bus ride with forty new friends, and a chance to explore Jewish culture through the Land of Israel.
Some people view Birthright as a form of propaganda to lure Jewish young adults ages into moving to Israel. Other people even think Birthright “brainwashes” their children to think in a politically-biased way about Israel. But that’s not the case. Birthright exists to change “the course of Jewish history and ensure the continuity of the Jewish people by strengthening Jewish identity, Jewish communities, and solidarity with Israel.” During my Birthright trip, I was able to climb Masada and watch the sunrise, explore the ancient hidden roads in Jerusalem, visit Yad Vashem (the Holocaust museum), swim in the Dead Sea, volunteer at a Kibbutz, hike in-between waterfalls in the Negev, bargain for items in the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv, make friends for a lifetime, and much more.
During Birthright you are able to learn about the diverse culture in Israel and even some of the Hebrew language, such as Sababa (cool), Gamal (camel), Chayaleem (soliders), Toda (thanks), Mayeem (water), Ochel (food), Kef (fun), and many more useful words and phrases. But the most important word is Taglit, as its represents in the word Birthright. Taglit means discover, as you discover Israel on Taglit-Birthright.
Birthright Israel was founded in 1990. In the article “Birthright Israel” by Shaul Kelner, he writes, “the CRB Foundation, a Canadian philanthropy…partnered with [the] Jewish Life Network (JLN) to reintroduce an idea that had been floated by Israel’s then-Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin.” Beilin’s idea was that every young adult in the Jewish Diaspora (living outside of Israel) should receive a free trip to Israel.
Another worry international Jewish parents have is the violence that is occurring throughout Israel. But that’s not the case at all. Before my trip I didn’t cancel my plans when I heard about the war happening during the summer. When there are wars or terrorist episodes in Israel during an organized trip like Birthright, the group is rerouted and security measures are taken to ensure the safety of the travelers. In my opinion, Birthright is very safe!
Alumni Edan Pesetsky, who went on Birthright in the winter trip of January 2014, says, “I never thought I would have gone on this trip. Next time, I will never think twice about an experience like that. It was eye-opening and a great learning experience. I fell in love with Israel and the culture and I want to go back.”