Should I take a chance on my last chance?
September 21, 2008 9:40 AM   Subscribe

Has anyone been on the Israel Birthright trip?

I'm turning 26 in November, so this would be my last chance to take this trip. I'm not religious at all, but the free trip is tempting and I think I would like to check out Israel. I'm on the fence because of the current political climate and I'd be going solo. I would love to hear feedback from those who have participated. Was it worth it?
posted by missjamielynn to Travel & Transportation around Israel (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
My sister has, and loved her experience. She was 21 at the time, I believe.

My brother is 25, and is going in December.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:03 AM on September 21, 2008


I went! I'm also not religious, just went for the free trip. It was AMAZING. Israel's beautiful. I also didn't know anyone when I went... unfortunately my group (leaving from NYC) was probably the rudest group of people I've ever met. There were a couple of cool kids to hang out with, but the rest were jerks. And even then I managed to have a great time. The israeli soldiers who were on the tour with us the whole tme were great. Other groups (there are thousands that go at the same time to Israel) were all way cooler, so there's a pretty good chance your group would be great, mine seemed to be the only one like that.

I went a few summers ago when it seemed to be more peaceful there. And while I was worried, there wasn't one moment there that I didn't feel safe. The guy organizing the trips (I forgot his name) said that he wouldn't take us anywhere that he doesn't let his daughters (who live in Israel) go.

Everything was so well organized, there was such a variety of things to do, something for everyone - camel riding, dead sea swimming, hiking up a waterfall, jerusalem, museums, staying with the bedoins in the desert.

I don't know what else you'd like to know, feel free to message me with questions.

I think it's definitely a trip worth taking!
posted by KateHasQuestions at 10:07 AM on September 21, 2008


Oh, and I was 18 when I went, the youngest in my group probably. Most people were 21-22, there were a couple of 25 yr olds. So while you might be the oldest, it's not by a lot at all.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 10:08 AM on September 21, 2008


I went a couple of years ago, and had an experience much like Kate's, though my group wasn't particularly rude - or, at least, no more than I'd expect from a random group of college kids. I'm also entirely areligious, and that wasn't a problem at all.

It was a huge blast and absolutely worth it.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:11 AM on September 21, 2008


I'm going this winter with a grad student birthright trip so I'll be with an older crowd instead of young drunken 18 year olds. Everyone I know that's been on it has nothing but praise for it.

Make sure you go on a trip with an organizer that appeals to you. You can go on outdoor hiking focused trips, photography trips, religious trips, clubbing trips, etc.

If you're not really religious and you don't want to be pressured to be more religious, stay away from Aish as a trip organizer.
posted by Arbac at 10:11 AM on September 21, 2008


I'd love to find out more info on a grad student birthright trip. I forgot to mention that I am a grad student in NYC, so I would prefer to be amongst an older crowd.
posted by missjamielynn at 10:16 AM on September 21, 2008


I didn't go, althoughy many in my family and peer group did. I was personally concerned about the overt pressure to meet/marry/procreate/repopulate with other Jews. The whole thing always struck me as subtle as a "singles" cruise. I'd ask people if this was there experience, if it made them feel uncomfortable, if there was an overt heteronormativity, etc.
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:21 AM on September 21, 2008


"I didn't go, althoughy many in my family and peer group did. I was personally concerned about the overt pressure to meet/marry/procreate/repopulate with other Jews. The whole thing always struck me as subtle as a "singles" cruise. I'd ask people if this was there experience, if it made them feel uncomfortable, if there was an overt heteronormativity, etc."

Yea, they did tell us it'd be great if we met someone and married them on the trip, they mentioned it several times... but I never felt pressured, we mostly just joked around about it in conversations. Some people from our group did hook up (of course - they're young, there was alcohol + parties), but overall it did NOT feel like an atmosphere where anyone felt pressured to hook up or meet anyone.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 10:25 AM on September 21, 2008


I would definitely recommend the trip. It's a great, free opportunity to see Israel in a way you'd never be able to plan independently. I felt very safe the whole time.

I agree with the above posts recommending a grad student or young professional-specific group. I went on the Journalism/Media trip and it was perfect for me (23 at the time and one of the younger people).

Our trip was organized with Mayanot, which was too religiously-focused. I'm from an interfaith, Reform family and they didn't address anything close to where I was coming from. This year the Media trip was through Hillel, which was much better, I heard from friends.

Yes, do research on a good Trip Organizer and program. Don't be afraid to be going alone, because that's the best way to go and get the most out of the trip.
posted by LiveToEat at 10:30 AM on September 21, 2008


Absolutely. I went on one of the birthright trips, organized through Hillel, and I loved it. I went alone as well, and it wasn't a problem. I met some really great people on the trip.

You mentioned the political climate. You weren't very specific, so I'm assuming you're referring to safety issues -- I really would not worry about it. The trip was very well-organized, there are security guards, they don't take you anywhere dangerous, etc.

And hell, it's a free trip to Israel with some cool experiences. It's not that long. Go for it.
posted by lullaby at 11:42 AM on September 21, 2008




I'm basically in the same position as you - I would like to go, but have felt uneasy about it for a while. Not really about safety, but about the message that they are trying to get across. A free trip is however, a free trip. I've done some research and there are sections that are just for older folk (I think that it's like 22-26) as well as programs that are different than the norm - biking, hiking, etc. Good luck! Maybe I'll see you on the trip :)
posted by interweber at 1:25 PM on September 21, 2008


There is definitely a "meet, marry and move to Israel to pop out babies" message that goes on, but nobody takes it seriously and it just becomes a joke. I loved my trip...I went through Hillel by myself and ended up making friends that I still keep in touch with. Go!
posted by youcancallmeal at 1:41 PM on September 21, 2008


You might want to check out the research of Theodore Sasson. "After Birthright Israel" (pdf available on the linked page) in particular should give you a sense for the political and religious implications of participation in a Birthright trip. Obviously it's not simple indoctrination, but you'd probably be wise to read up a bit on what the organization hopes to get in return for the money they're spending on your trip.

Personally, I'd go. Keep your eyes open and your thinking cap on and you're likely to have tons of fun & meet lots of interesting people.
posted by felix betachat at 3:04 PM on September 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Not a personal anecdote, but...

The point of birthright is to "get you back to your roots" but not in a religious or "marry a jew or we'll all die!" kind of way. The point is for you, first-hand and in your own way, to find out for you what it means for you to get back to your roots. So it's not overtly religious, or overtly people-hood focused. It's so that you'll have had a first hand experience in Israel and for that experience to shift your perceptions on the value of having a homeland.
posted by zpousman at 10:44 PM on September 21, 2008


Birthright has another purpose. Anti-semitism has come back to many college campuses, in a big way. Pro-Palestinian groups are out in full force, trying to convince everyone that everything the Palestinians do is OK and everything Israel does is wrong. The hope is that when you come back from a birthright trip you'll have the necessary information to combat these groups and show your fellow students a different point of view.
posted by bluekrauss at 11:49 PM on September 21, 2008


I'm basically in the same position as you - I would like to go, but have felt uneasy about it for a while. Not really about safety, but about the message that they are trying to get across. A free trip is however, a free trip. I've done some research and there are sections that are just for older folk (I think that it's like 22-26) as well as programs that are different than the norm - biking, hiking, etc. Good luck! Maybe I'll see you on the trip :)

I'd hold on to this uneasiness.

I went this past summer with Israel Outdoors, which I'd heard good things about. I picked it because I'm agnostic (but, Jewish mother, so, you know . . . ) and I'd heard that it was a lighter trip in terms of the religious content. I went alone, in an older group.

The experience is physically exhausting--most days, we had around four hours of sleep. We were forced to have these sort of "rap sessions" every night while exhausted where we discussed what Israel means to us. There was definitely the undertone in these discussions that 1. Judaism in diaspora should be discouraged; Jews should, in fact, feel that Israel is their "birthright" and come to live there and that 2. Intermarriage is to be frowned on, especially for the guys. These themes were pretty subtly discussed most of the time, though once, one of the organizers read us quotes a booklet and one said something like "And we all know what evils come of mixed marriages."

I reacted pretty strongly to this sort of rhetoric, as did a few others, but most people didn't seem to care particularly. Some swallowed it. Quite a few of the guys started expressing concerns about their Christian girlfriends back home. Since none of them were particularly religious themselves, I found this . . . weird. By the end, I felt like I was one of maybe two people who didn't feel total warm fuzzies about Israel as a nation. In fact, I feel even less comfortable about it, and my "relationship" to it, now.

This was exacerbated by other things in the trip. For example, the Israeli soldiers, while fun and nice and great people, were all really young (the oldest was barely 20). They participated in our discussions with all the fervor you would expect of young soldiers. Sometimes, I felt like this kept me from being able to express how I really felt--namely, that I was proud of my Jewish relatives who had maintained their religion in diaspora. It's really, really difficult to do that when soldiers are arguing that all Jews should support Israel--or even move to Israel--because they've had friends die for it. Several of the soldiers expressed the tacit opinion that they were more Jewish because they were Israeli, regardless of how observant they were. When some of us spoke up about this, we were met with silence; later, someone overheard the peer guides talking about how we just didn't "get" and "appreciate" Israel and the amazing gift of the trip.

I was also consistently appalled by the status of women in Israel; somehow, I hadn't realized how Orthodox Israel is, and the women on the trip were constantly told to cover up "to be respectful," but any attempt to discuss this aspect of Israel in our discussion sessions was just flatly squashed by the trip organizers. It was like we weren't allowed to acknowledge it at all. I blurted out something about the women's side of the Western Wall being smaller, because it surprised me, and people tsktsked that I was a feminist. At the same time, while we were asked to be "respectful" of the Orthodoxy's feelings about women's upper arms, we were also encouraged to sneak alcohol in to a Bedouin tent ("because that's the big party night" as our one American peer guide put it), which I felt was pretty disrespectful.

But I'll say again that I seemed much more bothered by this than many people. I did find some cool people to hang out with during the trip, which made it tolerable, even if they didn't feel as strongly as I did. I'm glad I went, if only because it was my first opportunity to leave the country, and Masada at dawn was damned beautiful. I also have a much more informed opinion about Israel now, even if its not the one that the trip organizers wanted me to have.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:38 AM on September 22, 2008 [3 favorites]


Oh, and, upsetting: if you have a goyish last name, you'll undoubtedly be given a really hard time at the airport. Every single "Johnson" on our trip had to talk about their Bar Mitzvah torah portion to prove they really wanted to get into Israel.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:43 AM on September 22, 2008


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