The first time I visited Israel, I was six years old. I don’t remember much of it, and the little I do remember is mostly from watching home videos. Growing up I went to a Modern Orthodox Jewish day school that heavily emphasized Zionism. We would have days where we learned about the history of Israel, Israeli culture, Israeli food, and Israeli current events. We would pray for the welfare of the State of Israel, the safety of IDF soldiers, and the return of then captured Gilad Shalit from Hamas. All of our Hebrew teachers were Israeli, and sometimes I would stay after class to learn more about this amazing country that eventually became almost mythical to me. A place that you hear about, and wish you could go visit, but somehow would always be out of reach.
Fast forward a few years, and I applied to go on a Birthright trip. For those of you who don’t know, Birthright Israel is an organization that sends young Jewish adults ages 18-32 on a 10-day trip to Israel FOR FREE. Seriously. Round-trip plane tickets, food, travel, attractions, and sleeping accommodations are all included. You are provided with a private tour bus, an amazing and knowledgeable tour guide, meet Israeli soldiers (who join you on the trip), and have a security guard/medic with you the entire time. They have a lot of different organizers, each with a lot of different types of trips. I chose Israel Free Spirit as my organizer and applied to go on the “modox” (modern orthodox) trip. Thankfully I was accepted, and started to prepare for what would be the most memorable trip of my life.
When I left Dallas for Israel, I thought I was already in love with Israel and the idea of making Aliyah. I thought I was prepared for this trip and while I was physically packed with everything I could need, I was completely unprepared for the emotional onslaught that hit me when the plane landed at Ben Gurion Airport. I was finally here, a place that had become legendary in my mind as a child. A place that at one time I never imagined I would be able to return. And now, I was finally HOME. It’s astonishing how before I went to Israel, I never noticed feeling as if something was missing in my life. Upon landing, I felt as if I was finally where I was supposed to be, and it was such a relief. I experienced all of this within the first five minutes of landing in Israel, and it is all thanks to Birthright Israel. For those who are eligible and haven’t gone yet, I cannot recommend it enough.
My trip was simply magical. The people on the trip were incredible. We bonded so much that by the end of it, we felt like a family. Everyone in charge of planning and coordinating the trip did a fantastic job. Our itinerary was jam-packed full of action, sight-seeing, fascinating historical lectures, lively discussions and debates, interaction with Israelis, opportunities for spiritual growth, and of course, delicious food. I created a video of my trip to be able to look back with fond memories.
For obvious reasons, this trip was a pivotal moment in my Aliyah story. It was my first time back in Israel, and I fell even more in love with the land and the people than I had thought was possible. I learned a lot about myself and had a better idea of what it’s like to live there. I am much more confident in my ability to make Aliyah. Now going to Israel is no longer an insurmountable feat. Six months after this trip, I returned to Israel to visit my brother (who had since made Aliyah himself) and to see the friends I made on Birthright. I am returning in two months to go to one of my best friend’s wedding. And I have every intention of coming back as often as possible before my Aliyah date.
Feel free to ask me any questions you may have about applying to and going on a Birthright trip, and let me know if you want me to make more in-depth posts about my trip!
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