Shauna Rosen grew up in a mixed-religious family, and while her home valued Jewish traditions, she found that some of the institutional Jewish community was less welcoming. And then as a 23-year-old, she inadvertently tried to sign up for a Birthright Israel trip that was for a far more observant person.
But at 32 and newly married, she was pointed in the right direction and found the right Birthright trip to take, and it changed her perspective.
“There really is a crazy variation of trip offerings,” said Rosen, who lives in Maple Grove. “I didn’t know there were different offerings. [My] trip had people who weren’t religious. I wasn’t sure how I’d be accepted, but I felt very comfortable.”
With the COVID pandemic now at a different place, Birthright Israel trips are back for the summer. And as Rosen learned, they aren’t just for college students to take over summer or winter breaks; as long as you are between ages 18 and 32 for this summer, have one Jewish parent, and spent less than three months in Israel while younger than 18, you’re likely eligible. After this summer’s trips, the age limit will be reduced back to 26.
“The registration for this summer is exceeding all of our wildest expectations,” said Ariel Weiss, the Midwest regional director for Birthright Israel. She said this month is expected to be the largest in the 22 years of the trip. “We expected it to be slow because people have not been talking about their trips for two years like they were. But people are yearning for an immersive in-person experience. At least on campuses, they’re just filling buses without a huge amount of recruitment. Our participants are ready to go in a way that is exciting and, frankly, slightly surprising.”
Getting to go at the older end of the spectrum, Rosen said, was a completely different experience than many teens she said their trip ran into.
“We were so glad could go when we were older,” Rosen said of her trip. “We know how to appreciate life in a different light when we were a little bit older and more established. I was one of two that were married on the trip and most were single, but had that life experience.”
If the trip you’re looking for is seeing the classics – Western Wall, Dead Sea, Masada – then that’s a perfect trip for you. However, Birthright offerings have expanded over the 23 years of the program.
“There are so many different opportunities to go on specific Birthright trips: single-gender trips, more orthodox-inclined trips, more adventure trips, LGBTQ trips,” Weiss said. “There are disability and inclusion trips, there are 12-step recovery trips. There should be no barrier to entry. It’s about creating a space that feels great for you.”
For Rosen, coming home gave her a nudge to re-engage in Judaism.
“To know that there’s this place that I could always be welcome, I never expected that out of the experience,” she said. “People were so welcoming. I feel more connected to Judaism than I ever had since this trip. More than I ever I thought I could be.”
This article is sponsored content from YALA as part of TC Jewfolk’s Partnership program. For more information, check out our media kit.