Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Birthright provides young adults with an immersive experience through 10 days in Israel

Discover culture and personal enlightenment
(Lauren Crociati/Daily Collegian)

Placed in the middle seat on a 10-hour plane ride, sandwiched between two friends, I was dreading what was to come. I was headed to Israel, a country I had only heard of from family and friends who admired it and movies or television that depicted it as simply the center of religion.

Birthright Israel, an organization that sends Jewish young adults on a free trip of a lifetime, was sending me to this place. Although I was absolutely elated to witness the country with my own eyes after only hearing of its beauty, I was completely alone. I only thought briefly about inviting friends along with me and mostly assumed that most of the individuals I would be exploring the Holy Land with were also traveling alone. I was wrong. On my 37-person trip, most came to Israel with family, friends, sorority sisters or siblings. After discovering this, I thought my chances of making any friends to explore this country with was slim.

It was not until the strangest, scariest and perhaps most comical situation of my trip that I found the core friends I’d enjoy my 10 days with. Before stepping onto my El Al flight, an Israeli airline used by Birthright, each member of the trip underwent questioning about their reasons for traveling to Israel and their experience with Judaism. I was asked questions such as, “Did you have a bat mitzvah?” And “do you know anyone who lives in Israel?” “Did you ever attend Hebrew school?” On my end, all of these questions were answered with a hesitant “no.” I started to panic. I was raised in a half-Jewish, half-Catholic household, and was never raised under strict religion. However, I was still eager to explore one side of my heritage in Israel. As I watched all my fellow travelers get the “A-okay” after each questioning, I was stuck waiting as my interviewer talked to a supervisor while gazing back and forth at me. Finally, she handed me a paper and told me to meet her at a certain location in the airport before my flight. I was petrified.

Before my second meeting with an El Al staff member, I frantically asked around the group to see if anyone else received the paper slip. Luckily, about four others had it as well. As we entered the room for further inspection we joked about feeling like criminals and hoping we would actually be let into Israel. One by one, after each of our bags were rummaged through and samples from our hands, phones and shoes were swabbed, we were let go to join our group again. After wondering if the staff members noticed the unhealthy amount of Cheez-Its I had in my carry-on bag, the fear left my body and finally I was on my way. I spent my trip with some of the other detainees, and this experience truly strengthened our bond.

I experienced Israel as a mix of desert and tropical landscapes. While peering out our tour bus window listening to Israel’s most popular music, I fell in love with the fields of palm trees aligned perfectly with each other. Cows and goats would rush by our bus and at rest stops camels would casually lay by a gift shop or a kosher McDonald’s restaurant. The Dead Sea, arguably Israel’s most well-known tourist attraction, will not let you stay on ground as you float above the sea floor covered in balls of salt crystals that, without water shoes, would be a difficult task to endure. In this sea, our tour guides informed us that it was best we only float for 20 minutes because of the amount of salt. Word to the wise: examine yourself for cuts and try not to shave before entering the sea. The excess of salt in the water, which makes you float, was quite painful for those of us with cuts, which we obtained from hiking the Masada fortress at four earlier that morning to catch the beautiful sunrise view.

The people of Israel were some of the kindest I had ever met. Most Israelis were fluent in the English language, luckily for me, who, before the trip, only knew the Hebrew word “l’chaim,” meaning “to life,” from its lively appearance in the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” However, after walking through markets and interacting with our guides, mostly Israeli soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces, I was able to learn and understand much more.

Birthright pairs each tour group with four or five Israeli citizens or soldiers about the same age as the travelers. These soldiers were our roommates and, after canoeing in the Jordan River and mingling at bars in Jerusalem with them, became just as close with us as fellow Birthright travelers. They taught us about the politics of Israel and the country’s many conflicts, their choice to commit to certain positions in the army and even the best methods to eating falafel. This experience led me to have a close understanding of life as a soldier and young adult in Israel and left me with friends in the country I once knew little about.

Birthright Israel is an experience that, although beginning with hesitation and an exclusive trip to nervous security questioning, I would do again and again. Trips to Israel are not just for those with a Jewish background: the David Project is another 10-day experience for both Jewish and non-Jewish individuals eager to learn more about the country. My trip to Israel gave me an absolute appreciation for the people of Israel, its culture and history and my own Jewish heritage.

Lauren Crociati can be reached at [email protected].


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  • H

    HaileySep 8, 2018 at 5:47 pm

    Really crazy way to spell Palestine, Lauren.

    • I

      IshmaelSep 9, 2018 at 10:53 pm

      Really crazy way to act woke on a subject you know nothing about, Hailey. Really crazy way to tell a Jewish girl she shouldn’t be proud of her heritage, Hailey. Really thinly veiled anti-semitism, Hailey.