By Eliana Rudee, Aliyah Annotated is published every Wednesday in JNS.org
Chances are, if you are Jewish and have a close connection with a young Jewish adult, you have heard of Taglit-Birthright Israel. Most people know it as the “free 10-day trip” to Israel for adults ages 18-26. But it’s definitely not free.
From what I’ve seen this week, it takes a village (and more) to create the meaningful experiences that Birthright participants enjoy in Israel. It’s more of a gift than a free trip. We know it takes a lot of money. But I think it takes more man/woman power than I expected, and I still don’t know the half of it. There are the tour educators, leaders, soldiers, medics, and more who guide the participants through Israel. The goal is to facilitate meaningful Israel and Jewish experiences for the younger generation who are less connected to Jewish identity, the global Jewish community, and Israel.
So last week, I flew from Israel to the U.S. to participate in the Birthright Fellows conference, the training program for past and future elite leaders of Birthright. We are required to lead at least three trips in the next three years. Based on the training that I underwent as a future leader, I can only imagine what the tour educators and guides go through.
I have never led a trip before, nor have I gone on Birthright—not for lack of trying (I applied before the eligibility rules were changed). But I have heard a lot about the Birthright experience, to say the least. Some people (the ones who haven’t gone on Birthright) call it “brainwashing.” Others (the ones who have) call it a life-changing experience. It’s actually not surprising that a group of Jewish emerging adults who explore Israel together would return home transformed by the experience. Usually, when we travel outward, we learn inward. And this is even truer when the land to which we travel speaks to us about our own heritage, history, values, and culture. It’s not exactly a journey outward bound; it’s a journey home.