Aug 25, 2015
Local Young Adults Discover Israel, Identity on Birthright Community Trip
In Israel, Birthright is called “Taglit” which means “discovery” in Hebrew and that word is the goal of the trip -- discovery of Israel and its people, discovery of one’s own personal connection to Jewish values and tradition, and discovery of the ways in which one can be a part of the larger Jewish community. Approximately 25 young Jewish adults ages 22-26 from South Florida—15 from South Palm Beach County—recently returned home to Florida from the inspiring, exciting adventure of a lifetime - a free trip to Israel on our community's third dedicated Birthright bus and first partnering the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County and the Jewish Federation of Broward County.
Among those on the trip from our community were: new college grads, a young entrepreneur, real estate agents, a graphic designer, a chef, lawyers, a speech pathologist, a professional dancer, an ER physician assistant, a business analyst, engineers, teachers and a copy editor. Some had grown up without religious education or observance, while others were from more traditional Jewish homes.
Adding immeasurably to the experience, the local bus participants were joined on their travels by eight young Israeli peers and members in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), for the duration of the trip. These soldiers, three from Kiryat Bialik, the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County's longtime Partnership2Gether Sister City, provided a wealth of information as well as a view of Israel through their eyes to help participants truly discover Israel and make life-long friendships. Several have already planned trips to South Palm Beach County to visit with the Birthright participants this fall.
The adventure-packed trip included an exciting and eye-opening visit to Kiryat Bialik, where participants helped package food and met with locals at the youth center. Participants toured the Old City of Jerusalem including a very inspiring Shabbat at the Kotel (Western Wall). The trip also included emotional visits to Yad Vashem, Israel's national memorial to the Holocaust, and to the Har Herzl Military Cemetery where their Israeli soldier peers shared personal stories about fallen friends at their final resting places. The brisk itinerary also had them hiking in the Golan Heights, floating in the Dead Sea and scaling Masada, riding camels and sleeping in a Bedouin tent in the desert.
The Federation – Birthright Israel partnership is special: It provides a custom-tailored itinerary which highlights connections between those on the trip and their peers who reside in Israel. More importantly, it lays the foundation for the participants to not only enrich their Jewish identity, but also to instill in them a desire to become part of the Jewish community at home upon their return.
Since 2000, approximately over 500,000 young adults have joined in remarkable 10-day educational Taglit-Birthright trips to Israel at no cost to them. Participants routinely describe their experience as life-changing, and research has shown that the trips have indeed proven to strengthen Jewish identity, to build lasting bonds and friendships with the land and people of Israel and to reinforce the solidarity of our Jewish family worldwide.
Just see how our own community’s travelers describe their journey:
“As an officer in the IDF, I never imagined that I'd feel different in places that I've been to so many times with other people. The amazing Americans let me see Israel through their eyes and appreciate it much more. The peak of the trip was visiting Mt. Herzl and the grave of my close friend who was killed defending innocent Israeli citizens last Summer. I never had the courage to visit his grave and really mourn but with these incredible people, I was able visit his grave and know that he would have been proud of me, remembering him with all these people. Sometimes during the army, you forget the purpose of defending your own country. I will never forget these people and they will be friends for life.”
Birthright Participant and IDF Soldier, Shimon Cohen
“Not only was this a community trip, making it easy to stay in contact with my new friends after I got home; but we had the Mifgash program the entire ten days, allowing us to form even tighter bonds with our Israeli friends. I definitely got everything I wanted out of this trip and more! A sense of pride in my Jewish heritage; a sense of community with my Jewish friends; and the incredible feeling of being welcome in Israel, which I now consider my second home.”
Birthright participant, Shirley Sharon
“Before the trip, I was told that it was amazing and I still got blown away by the experience. It was more than I could imagine. Some of the events like Masada and the Water Tunnels in the City of David were breathtaking. I encourage anyone who is eligible to take advantage of this once in a lifetime experience before it's too late.”
Birthright participant, Ross Meyer
“In these 10 days, I made new friends in which I am sure I'll stay in touch with in the future. I think participating in Birthright is great and Jews around the world must take part in it. Thank you to the Jewish Federations of South Palm Beach and Broward counties, as well as Amazing Israel for this opportunity. I encourage everyone, both American and Israeli, to take advantage of this experience.”
Birthright Participant and IDF Soldier, Gilad Openheim
“Israel has always been a keystone issue for me ever since I was a kid. Through the Jewish state, I have been able to meet my fiancée and have jobs that allow me to do what I love and advocate for things I’m passionate about. By leading our Federation’s Birthright trip, I wanted to pass along that love of both Israel and the Jewish community to our participants. It was incredible to see that desire develop rapidly in all of them as our uniquely close-knit group experienced Israel for the first time and shaped their own Jewish identity. Along with our amazing soldiers, who we were fortunate to have for the entire trip, the friendships made will last a lifetime over our common bond and love of Israel, our community and each other.”
Birthright Community Bus Leader, Brian Sarran, a professional at the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County
Next summer, the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County will offer another Birthright Israel community bus experience for Jewish young adults who will be ages 22-26 in 2016. For more information, call 561.852.3229 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.