For those of you who have never heard of this unbelievable opportunity, Birthright is a trip that various organizations run to send young adults who were born with a Jewish background on a free, 10-day trip to Israel. The organization believes a visit to the homeland is every Jewish person’s right from birth.
First, I’ll backtrack to about two years ago when I finally found out about this program. I went through the application process, was accepted onto a trip and turned it down.
Why would I turn down a free, 10-day trip to a country that means so much to my culture? I chalked it up to me being a baby, that’s why. I am your typical homebody. I’m the “let me be in my comfort zone” kind of girl, or so I thought.
Don’t get me wrong, I love where I come from and the life I live. But after talking myself into taking the trip of a lifetime years later at the age of 22, I finally realized what I have been missing out on in my little bubble that I like to call home, South Jersey.
From the first moment I stepped out of the airport in Tel Aviv, to sleeping on a mat comparable to what one might use for yoga in the middle of a desert, to the last moment I traveled home squished between two strangers on the 14-hour flight, I experienced a new mindset.
This new mindset is one that I feel has allowed me to relieve a lot of stress, anxiety and overthinking. Traveling taught me to go with the flow. I have always been the type of person who overthinks plans, overanalyzes conversations and overstresses about the future. I don’t want to say I was roughing it at all on the trip, but having situations a little flawed and out of my control (discomfort on the crammed plane, sleeping conditions, tiredness etc.), over 6,000 miles from home allowed me to realize that I can either complain, waste time trying to change it or accept it and go with the flow.
The next, and I feel in some ways the most important, thing I learned was that nature and hiking are awesome. When you look up “non-athletic regular person” (NARP) in the dictionary, you see my face.
So when I read about all of the outdoorsy kinds of things I’d be doing during my visit to Israel, I was a little intimidated. I think the exact moment that I changed my mind and realized how great the outdoors, being physically active and enjoying nature was when we hiked Mount Masada on the hottest day under the desert sun after four hours of sleep. All the odds seemed to be against me.
I was tired, out of breath and sweating. The old me would have looked at this as inhumane torture, but, within moments reaching the top, everything was going for me: I was in the most sacred land to my family, with 42 new friends, hiking up to breathtaking views on a beautiful sunny day.
At that exact time, I realized how amazing everything around me was. To the right, I could see the glistening Dead Sea. To the left, I saw what seemed to be never-ending quiet, peaceful desert. Next to me, I had friends who were coming just like family. I could breathe and think clearer during the remainder of the hikes on this journey. I slept in a tent bundled with three layers of pants, gloves and my jacket under shooting stars after sitting around a bonfire telling stories. I saw five shooting stars, which were so cool. I road a camel at 6 a.m. in the same clothes I was in for the past 36 hours. I ate dinner on the ground inside a tent as Bedouins served me. I stood in silence in the middle of the desert looking up at the night sky and reflecting on life. I fell in love with the outdoors.
Ever get dealt what feels like 100 bad cards in one week? Ever start to question society because of all the hate we are constantly witnessing? I would be lying if I said I never had these feelings run miles through my head. My trip on Birthright reassured me that there are and always will be genuinely good people in the world. Within an hour of getting off of the plane, loading the bus with our bags and heading to our first stop, Caeserea, I felt strangely comfortable. These 40 18-22 year-old people who were around me were so accepting, so open to new people and things, that I was able to act exactly like myself. In South Jersey, and I can confidently say many other places, people are very cliquey.
A worry of mine before the trip was that the cliqueyness would carry over to Israel and that I wouldn’t feel comfortable. Something about being in a new land brought a similar mindset to everyone on the trip. We all were interested in each other’s backgrounds, thoughts and ways of life in an extremely personal way.
As if the other American students on the trip with me did not reassure good people’s existence enough, the Israeli soldiers that spent five days with us along with our tour guides and hosts throughout the country allowed this sense of “being who you are” to carry all throughout the trip.
These soldiers that spent their time off from the army to show us what Israel was all about had such an amazing, positive outlook on life. I define a good person as being someone who wants you to be yourself, someone who embraces and accepts it. After this trip, I made a promise to myself to surround myself with only those kinds of people.
The list of what Birthright Israel taught me about others, the world and myself could go on for days.
Overall, what I took out of the experience can be summed up into one corny, motivational and Insta-worthy quote: “Be true to yourself.”
Like some fortune cookies read, “If you are true to yourself, constantly are who you want to be, push yourself to do your best and keep your mind open to any new experiences and people that come your way, you’ll always find happiness.”
Carly Feldman is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at CF787307@wcupa.edu.