Most readers of this site are probably aware of my opinion on tours: avoid them like the plague, and always arrange your own vacation. You get a more authentic experience, and you get to do the things that you want to do.
That being said, when I heard that I could go on a free ten-day trip to Israel just for being a Jew between the ages of 18 and 26, honestly, tour or not, how could I say no? I hopped on the plane with a (truly) open mind and an (almost) empty wallet.
And sitting here a week later looking back at all the pictures, I can honestly say that it was fantastic. I wish it never had to end.
If I had been paying for the trip, I would’ve been pissed.
Why? Primarily because the logistics were horrible. If you look at my travellog you’ll notice that the trip took us back and forth all over the country countless times; we found ourselves waking up at the crack of dawn to make it to our next destination for sunrise when we could’ve just ordered locations to already be there for sunrise. We found ourselves rushing through awesome street markets to make it to a restaurant that turned out to be closed for Passover. We found ourselves taking countless three-hour journeys in a country scarcely the size of New Jersey. This level of organization was true prior to the trip as well – I didn’t even find out that I was an accepted participant until just a matter of days beforehand, and no amount of phone calls or e-mails would yield a human correspondent.
Of course I have to be understanding that this was the first Birthright trip ever to take place during Passover, one of the biggest Jewish holidays, and that it was thrown together at the last minute. Typically there are hundreds of Birthright trips throughout Israel at any given time, but in our case, we were the one and only. I think this was both a blessing and a curse, causing the majority of the trip’s problems while simultaneously creating its slew of overwhelming strengths.
Birthright trips have a reputation for being ten-day wild parties. Buses congregate in the big cities and groups join together for long nights of hotel parties and Hookah smoking before separating to resume their individual itineraries. It sounds like something I would’ve loved, but since we were the only trip during Passover, for us this was not the case.
At first I was disappointed, but in the end I grew so close to the trip’s 26 other participants that I think it was worth it. It’s now a week after the trip officially ended, yet half the trip’s participants are living at each others’ houses and inviting each other to their best friends’ birthday parties. Even the security guards, paid to spend the 13 days with us, have been showing up at our hostels to invite us out for dinner and drinks. After 13 days and nights with 26 individuals of the same age, it’s hard not to develop into such a close group of friends.
Describing the Birthright trip with my usual level of detail at this point would be impossible, so I’ll do the best summary I can from the pictures and videos I have available.