I went on the Birthright Israel Outdoors trip in Jan-Feb of 2012 and I had the most incredible time. I am not sure where to even begin but here are some initial reactions that I wanted to share with other prospective participants.
Let me begin with logistics. The five things I could not live without in Israel are:
1. Comfortable walking shoes.
I had four kinds but could have done with two most likely – one pair of flats (for dressier but still lots of walking nights out), converse since they are my chosen walking shoes for everyday, flip flops for the beach day, and a serious pair of sneakers for the more serious hikes.
Our trip had such a range of weather it was nuts!
3. A dressy Shabbat outfit.
4. A journal.
Because you do not want to feel like you’re forgetting things before you even get to bed that night and the trip is JAM PACKED.
5. An open mind.
Corny, I know, but our group bonded in an intense way and I hear that doesn’t always happen. It was because everyone was open and ready to make diverse friends and learn about the culture.
Quick comment about the food – I have never been more culinary satisfied! It’s delicious, healthy, there are cheap options and fancier options and if you are a little brave you will have the best time with all the varieties of flavors from the North to the South of the country. Advice: drink all the fresh pomegranate juice you can, eat falafel once day (it’s that good) and enjoy the shakshuka because the NYC version doesn’t compare.
Ido Notman and Ido Ziv. I can’t write about my trip without talking about these two, and maybe you were lucky enough to have them on your trip, too. Notman was out tour guide and Ziv was our soldier. I will never forget either one. They were smart and friendly, hung with us and taught us every moment of our trip. They were like brilliant friends. It was an honor and a privilege to know them both.
Lastly, I want to share two anecdotes:
First is the one very simple thing that got rid of the shyness and brought our group together for the first time. One member of our group brought Catchphrase the game with her from NYC. Brilliant move! I will never forget sitting on the beach, feet in the Dead Sea playing Catchphrase and giggling with all my new friends. Most of whom I see on a regular basis on NYC. It broke the ice, and changed the rest of the trip – leaving us all open and ready to really experience the country together. I am so glad it happened on Day 2. You too should consider bringing something that gets people talking and interacting early into the trip.
My second story was almost a week later, towards the end of our trip. Our soldiers – Yael, Yaniv, Hila, Alona, Igal, and Leor – were already a solidified part of our Israel Outdoors family when we visited the military cemetery. We saw them in uniform for the first time since the day we met them and they proceeded to give a presentation about their stories, friends, experiences in the current war they are fighting. We all broke down; there wasn’t one member of our group who wasn’t crying. It wasn’t the tears that touched them, but as they later said it was clear that by that time we had fallen in love with them and their country. To hear them tell it, they were glad to show us the harsher, real side of what some lives are like in Israel so that we can say we really did learn their world. It was one of the deepest honors I have experienced to watch them struggle to share their stories with us. Stories so foreign to most of us in the US. Afterwards, the bus was quieter than it had been in days until Igal broke the silence with his fadicha (embarrassing tale). They are friends I may never see again but I smile at every Facebook update and I will never ever forget the intimacy of that sunny day on Memorial Mountain.
– Randi A. Rivera