While I was attending Brandeis University, a technically non-denominational school with predominantly Jewish students, most of my friends attended a program called Birthright. Some even went for a 2nd round and staffed this free all inclusive 10-day trip to Israel. I knew that I wanted to go but never had a chance to in college. I was told you can go from 18-25 years old so when I turned 24 I started applying for Israel Outdoors.
Israel Outdoors fit my mold; I am not particularly religious and love hiking, biking and being outside. I was wait-listed at 24 only to apply again at 25. They wait-listed me a second time but let me know I could still apply at 26 too. Fortunately enough when I was 26 I was given a slot on an August trip with 39 others.
A few of us joined a Facebook group and chatted online but we didn’t really meet until early August at John F. Kennedy International Airport. We found Mollie and Ari waiting for us in Israel Outdoors shirts before checking bags and getting our boarding passes. Along the way I met Jay and Ben in line before gradually finding everyone else at our gate.
We mingled and discovered that we had a lot in common (outside of Jewish family history). Most of us were recent college graduates living in the New York area. A suprising number of teachers were in the crowd as well as a number in finance, in law school, med school or another graduate program. Before long Mollie and Ari came over for our first ice breaker that had all 42 of us sitting in a giant circle. That must have been quite a scene for security and anyone that didn’t know us! Paper and pens were handed out and we were asked to write down 1) our name/where we are from2) what we are looking forward to in Israel and 3) an interesting fact about ourselves.
Around the circle we laughed and “awed” at everything from “I want to ride a camel, swim in the dead sea, meet Israelis” to “I love my dogs more than most of my friends, I play with swords, and I have the perfect cartoon sneeze-laugh” Before we knew it the boarding call for our Swiss Air flight came and we found our seats.
A stop in Zurich, Switzerland and roughly 13 hours later we found ourselves at Ben Gurion Airport and quickly met Einav, our tour guide for the trip. He doled out cell phones that were pre-ordered, introduced our bus driver and we climbed aboard our home for the next 10 days; the bus.