The plane lands in Israel. After relearning to walk following 18-hours of flight, with legs sardined between a Chasidic family and 8 crying toddlers, you exit the plane. Excitedly, you begin examining your surroundings with sleep-deprived eyes and the sense of curiosity only multiple layovers, four airplane-dinners, and a foreign, yet somehow familiar country can provide. Your Birthright trip begins.
You gather your luggage, take in the Tel Aviv air, and quickly transition from aircraft to tour bus with 50 strangers you’ll soon call family.
Birthright Israel, the free 10-day trip for Jewish young adults ages 18-26, has been sending Jews from the Diaspora to Israel for more than 15 years. Over 500,000 participants have taken part in this life changing journey, experiencing Israel’s unique charm.
Trying to explain the quick-bonding group dynamic formed over the course of this cross-country expedition is impossible. Until participants have experienced these 240 unforgettable hours with American and Israeli peers, the thought of turning strangers into family is inconceivable. Forming a family of 50 usually takes generations. On a Birthright trip, it only takes 10 days.
Perhaps it’s the historical and sensory pleasures of Israel which spark immediate connections to the land and people: tasting the food, smelling the crisp breeze of the Mediterranean Sea and touching ancient buildings and walls. Maybe the connections originate from modern technological advancements, the sounds of bustling city streets, the soothing calmness of desert nights under a Bedouin tent (with the occasional grunt of a camel), and echoes of Jerusalem schoolchildren singing Shabbat songs. Observing the foundation of Israeli society—made up of secular and Orthodox Jews, Christians, Muslims, and everything in between—eliminates Israel’s clouded reputation and quickly reveals the land which 8 million very diverse people call home.
Birthright participants easily become enamoured with Israel and often develop a new-found passion for Judaism. The magnitude of their Jewish journey is so prodigious because they’re sharing the adventure with other Jewish young adults—and when a Jew is surrounded by other Jews, things feel… like family.
A trip to Israel is possibly the most profound way for young Jews to connect to Judaism. Exploring their roots with other first-timers who understand what life’s like at home being “the Jewish kid” separates a Birthright trip from all other Israel experiences. Birthright provides a “6th sense” for participants: the feeling of Jewish pride.
Jewish summer camps, High Holiday services, and lighting Hanukkah candles are wonderful activities for Diaspora Jews. But they’re not enough. To guarantee our Jewish future, we must continue sending our Jewish future to Israel.
Jewish Federation & Family Services and OC Hillel coordinate community trips which, like all Birthright trips, are absolutely free! In addition to everything amazing about Birthright, OC community trips depart from LAX. And, since everyone’s from Southern California, participants return with a whole new circle of friends.
Summer registration opens February 1. If you, your child, grandchild, or anybody else you know, is 18-26 years old and eligible for Birthright, contact me at Adam@JFFS.org, call (949) 435-3484, or visit jewishoc.org/birthright to learn more about an OC Birthright trip.
Adam Chester graduated from UCSD with a degree in Psychology and is the NextGen Outreach & Engagement Coordinator at JFFS.