Birthright Exposes Young Texans to Israel
By Carly Karten
Taglit-Birthright Israel recently gave 41 young adults an opportunity to visit Israel. For many, this was their first time not only traveling to Israel but spending a significant amount of time with a group of Jewish peers. The trip gave them the opportunity to discover their Jewish identity while exploring and making Jewish connections.
I had the amazing opportunity to represent Shalom Austin while staffing this trip along with Carly Bierman, who works with the Young Adult Division as senior campaign associate at the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas. We were excited to see and experience what it would be like for a young adult to come to Israel for the first time.
Our trip started with visiting our partnership in Akko, where participants played with middle schoolers and explained how the partnership ties in to the Jewish Federation. From there we traveled throughout the Golan Heights, stopping to hike and take in the views of mountains, green lush fields and dozens of cities.
We then headed to Jerusalem where we stayed for Shabbat. For a lot of the participants this was their first Shabbat, the first time they lit candles and said prayers over challah, and the first time they attended Friday night services and ended Shabbat with Havdalah. To many of them this was their favorite part of the trip, they had the opportunity to be with their Birthright “family” and feel comfortable being themselves without worry or judgement.
One of the most powerful programs during the trip was a Jewish values survival game.
Participants were split up into six groups and had to decide what the three most important Jewish values were to them. Although everyone in the group came from different backgrounds all six groups had at least one common Jewish value — family. Everyone agreed that family did not just mean blood relatives but rather a group of people who are like-minded and supportive of one another.
Another highlight of the trip was hiking up to Masada to watch the sun rise. After witnessing one of the most wonderful views in the world, we sat down in the synagogue designed by King Herod.
About 20 participants took part in an optional b’nai mitzvah ceremony led by our tour guide.
There was something so powerful about him asking participants what they wanted their Hebrew name to be, to give them an opportunity that many take for granted. By the end of the trip everyone was sad to leave not only Israel but their new family.
A free Israel adventure for 18 to 32-year-old adults of Jewish heritage, Birthright is a gateway to figuring out how to shape one’s Jewish identity. It does not push certain views on others; it gives them the opportunity to find themselves and what being Jewish means to them. ■
For more information on Taglit-Birthright Israel, visit www.birthrightisrael.com.