I am going to Israel on a free nearly all expenses paid trip in a few months. I submitted an application on a whim after seeing a Facebook friend announce that registration was open for Birthright Israel trips. I first visited Israel with my family when I was in elementary school for a two weeks of sightseeing. I don’t remember much except for eating at a kosher McDonalds, overlooking Jerusalem, swimming in the dead sea, our hotel in Tel Aviv, and this short story I am about to tell.
Family vacations generally suck when you don’t get along easily with your family members. In Israel it was a constant fight for the front seat, what we were going to eat, and other dumb issues. We were at the dead sea and I remember coming out of the water to find that everyone has used all of the towels to dry off. I really disliked sharing anything that could have germs and so I threw a fit. I was also responsible for carrying the big, 1990’s style video camera back to the car. I was angry. In retaliation I left it next to a wall and we drove away. When my family asked what I did with the video camera I told I “forgot” it at the dead sea. We pulled a U-turn and sped back in the opposite direction. The military would find the video camera and assume it were a bomb. We never saw that video camera again. I don’t know if someone nicked it or if it were actually blown up.
Birthright Israel is a Jewish charity that sponsors free 10-day heritage trips to Israel. Birthright Israel’s goals are to diminish the division between Israel and Jewish communities around the world and to strengthen participants’ personal Jewish identity and connection to Jewish history and culture. As of spring 2009, over 200,000 individuals (over 22,000 each year), from 52 different countries have participated since the trips began in the winter of 2000.
It’s basically paid for 50% by Israel and the rest by other charitable organizations and wealthy individuals. For a total of ten days I will more or less do the following along with 20 Jewish Women and 19 Jewish men aged 22-26. Seems like they also intend for some people to meet their future spouses 😉 I am aware of all of the program’s criticism but whatever the reasons are for this program I am going. It’s free after all.
I think the trip sounds really neat. It’s going to be really rushed but at the same time it’s a lot of activities I doubt I would ever choose to do if I were planning it. I’m going to be stuck with 39 others for ten days. I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing but its certainly going to be different than the usual solo travel. Did I mention it’s an organized tour?
- Participants in each group remain together at all times and follow a set schedule of activities
- Participants do not leave the groups to travel, explore or visit with Israelis on their own during the ten-day trip
- Public transportation is not allowed at any time
- At least one highly-trained, armed escort will accompany each group throughout the entire trip
What this means is that at least for these ten days with the group it’s going to be packed full of cliches, not that I mind. Photos with camels or posing with soldiers holding guns should be the norm. I imagine that many will be traveling internationally for the first time which may bring a lot of comedy. I can already see the kind of observations that Karl Pilkington makes in An Idiot Abroad.
I am also looking forward to being around people my age living normal lives, as strange as that may sound. It feels like its been a while that I have hung around other Americans who actually live in the US and work a normal job. Sometimes a little normal can be good to balance myself out. Hopefully i’ll learn some things from them about what its like and if not, i’ll still get to be around people who have genuine excitement about traveling for the first time in most of their lives.
What’s after my ten day tour of Israel. I’m not quite sure yet but I do have some ideas.
- Rent a furnished apartment in a place like Tel Aviv for a month or two.
- Do some easy traveling to nearby countries like Egypt and Jordan that I honestly don’t have much interest in except for them being somwhat easy to visit.
- Avoid an Israel passport stamp and visit some desirable places to me like Beirut, Syria, and Turkey
- Catch a flight to somwhere in Africa like Ethiopia
Whatever it is the most likely option that I will return to Colombia sometime in March and go back to my present life in Medellin.
Hey man, it’s free, regardless of everything else that makes it a do-go in my book, I’d never turn down a free trip, go for it and make the most of it.
Locationless Living says
Agreed. I’m getting very excited about going, and especially for after the trip when i’ll already be in the region able to choose where to visit next!
Awesome news! My brother went on a heritage trip around the time he was in college, but I never really knew of or looked into it. I should keep the idea in my back travel pocket as an excursion outside Latin America, something I’d like to do once or twice per year.
If you’d like to catch some different opinions while you are there as well, check out http://www.icahd.org/?page_id=89
Locationless Living says
Thanks for the info Arlen i’ll look into that tour.
Birthright is one of the best if not thee best trip i’ve ever been on. Those 10 days feel like a month and you actually don’t stop the whole time, its an amazing trip. I’m sure you are aware, but you can extend your ticket home for free for however long you want, so I definitely would suggest doing that if you plan on doing a bit of traveling. Saludos!
Locationless Living says
I am pretty psyched Jeremy! I think my travel plans all depend on whether I can get away without getting an Israeli stamp on my passport. I really want to see Beirut and Syria…but I think i’d also really like to be back in Colombia no later than the end of March.