As a teenager, I had the amazing privilege to travel to Israel with my youth group; people who, to this day, are my best friends. Experts say that an organized trip to Israel is a valuable way to keep teens and young adults connected to their Jewish identity and the Jewish homeland.
I believe that this is true. Here’s what has stuck with me about my trip to Israel, 14 years later:
- Rachel kissed a boy from another group and OMG it was a huge deal
- Adam kissed a girl from another group and she was from France and OMG it was a huge deal
- Jeff held a soldier’s gun and almost got sent home and OMG it was a huge deal
- Emily held hands with Sam during Israeli dancing and OMG it was a huge deal*
[Names have been changed to protect the innocent 16-year-olds let loose in another country without adults.]
Do you know why, despite the fact that I consider this trip one of the top 10 experiences in my life, these are my pervasive memories of Israel? BECAUSE I WAS SIXTEEN.
My friends that went on Birthright in college had a different experience. They were changed. It was the most amazing experience of their life, they said. Because of my organized trip to Israel at age 16, I was ineligible for Birthright. But something happens between 16 and 18, I think, something that makes you more likely to appreciate Israel as a place that’s so important to who we are as Jews.
Maybe you’re between the ages of 18 and 26 and you feel the same way? In that case, I have great news for you, terrible news for me: Birthright recently changed their requirements, and now you’re eligible if you went on an organized trip before the age of 18 (and meet the rest of the eligibility requirements).
That’s three years too late if you ask this bitter 29 year old.
But if this opens up an opportunity for you! What are you waiting for? Registration for spring and summer trips is now open at birthrightisrael.org.
Full disclosure: Birthright is a partner of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation, of which I’m an employee. Federation is proud to be a part of so many unforgettable Israel experiences, from high school travel to long-term internship, study abroad, gap year and volunteer programs with Masa Israel. If you still aren’t eligible for Birthright and are itching to get to Israel (Masa, anyone?), Federation’s Israel Center is here to help and even has scholarships available! Contact Andrea Nadel at [email protected] or 952.417.2334
*(Note for my dad (who funded my trip) and anyone else thinking about sending their teenagers to Israel: Don’t think going to Israel wasn’t one of the best experiences of my life. I am forever grateful that I was able to go. There was just a lot of teenage drama….and OMG it was a big deal.