On her final day of her Birthright adventure, Simone Spilka sent Milk Made a summation of what lessons she has learned during her time in Israel.
Israel’s day of rest was followed by full days of whichever synonym most accurately describes no rest.
One such instance was 20 consecutive hours of the aforementioned no rest. Alarms at 3:45am rang in my bedroom that overlooked The Dead Sea for a dark 1300-foot climb to sunrise atop Mount Masada. The hike was even worth the view to the bus driver, Musa, who joined our group on the snake path with lit cigarette in hand.
The picturesque morning set the scene for a venture to paint myself in mud and float the salty waters of The Dead Sea. But alas, at 4pm the day was not close to finished yet. We arrived at accommodation, a Bedouin tent fit for forty-five campers in the middle of the Negev desert, and yes – it was absolutely as cool as it sounds. Fittingly, Bedouins are tribes or clans that live in the desert. A sunset camel ride on the property preluded a traditional meal served while hundreds of diners sat cross-legged around trays of hummus, pita, schwarma and an instrumental presentation by a Bedouin on the reservation. All it took was a cup of warm vodka to ease my foggy exhaustion and fear of ticks.
Note: My first ever desert sleepover experience far surpassed any expectations I could have had.
So besides learning that I am officially ready for the nomadic lifestyle ahead, and that Hasidic Jews are the coolest street musicians in Jerusalem, I walked away from Birthright with a new understanding of Israel and its people. Ten days, many laughs, and a number of powerful conversations passed since first departing LAX.
As I type in the town of Bet Yam, while Shabbat dinner is in preparation by an Israeli family who has hospitably welcomed me into their home. It’s just now that I have time to reflect on what the experience provided and why it continues to thrive after a 13-year history.
There are many protagonists in this story who are open and interested in teaching strangers about their personal values, as well as the conflicts of the country that are ever present. I have heard more opinions about the Israeli army, war, and religion in the span of this trip than in the span of my lifetime; I am a more insightful and emotionally invested individual to this country.
One seemingly resentful soldier explained, “We need to bring people here [on Birthright] to show them about the war. People think that all we do is kill people, but they teach us never to shoot people in the face or body. We do not want to kill.”
While such topics are extreme, they reflect the true nature of the lives of young soldiers. Although this extremity does not reflect the depth of every conversation, these messages are frequented in discussion. In this sense, Birthright does an excellent job combining adventure with education on both a historical and personal level.
As I left my mark with a note at the Wailing Wall for the health of my family and safety of my travels, Israel also left its mark on me, and succeeded in allowing me feel more welcome than anyplace thus far traveled in the world.
The entity of the program proved what it set out to achieve: to connect people to their Jewish identity and extend a genuinely warm welcome to the homeland.
“You are Jewish – your place is here,” a complete stranger shared.
I wasn’t quite sure what Birthright hoped to achieve by sending hundreds of thousands (300,000 to date) on a subsidized trip until a defining conversation with our tour guide, Yair.
“The opposite of love is not hatred, it’s indifference,” he told me. “If people are indifferent, they will fail to pass the Jewish traditions to their children. The people of the Jewish community and its parents have failed, so the point of Birthright is to restore the identity of our people – to pass on these ideals to our generation.”
And if there’s one thing I took away, it’s that people fall into two categories: life-changers and bystanders.
Right now, my goal is to become a life-changer.
- One Way Ticket: The Island
- One Way Ticket: Birthright - Entry 1
- One Way Ticket: The Full Moon Experience
- One Way Ticket: The Road Less Traveled
- One Way Ticket: Reminiscing in Thailand