Traveling to Israel: An Amazing Gift
Posted on February 21, 2014 by Sam Cohen '14.
Have you ever been given an amazing gift? Many people would say yes to this, like a car for their 16th birthday or maybe a really nice watch for graduation. But I am asking have you ever been given a gift that was also an opportunity, an adventure that can change your life?
I was lucky enough to receive the gift of Taglit-Birthright, a free trip to Israel. This trip is completely FREE, about a $3,000 trip gifted to all that apply and are eligible, and designed to give those ages 18 to 26 the experience of a lifetime.
The program was started by Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt and was originally designed to allow all young Jews to visit the homeland of Israel, but it has turned into so much more. Since the program started in 1999, the program has given this amazing gift to more than 350,000 Jewish young adults, which is no minor feat!
Many fear that the trip is centered around religion or to gain support for Israel, but that’s far from the truth. There are trips designed for everyone, from outdoor trips centered around hiking to a trip for “foodies”, and even those interested in social networking and technology! There are constantly trips being added geared to bring groups of people together with similar interests, from those who love lacrosse to artists!
I chose to go on a trip with Routes Travel: Amazing Israel, one of the trip organizers under the Taglit-Birthright umbrella. My trip was called Extreme Israel, with my days not only spent seeing all of the famous sights of the country, but also a lot of time spent outdoors hiking and exploring the many gorgeous areas of Israel.
We were lucky enough to see tens of thousands of cranes migrating in the Hula Valley, float in the Dead Sea (which is amazingly crystal clear), spend time at the Wailing Wall and hike up Masada to see the sunrise. On top of Masada, I finally had my bar mitzvah, which was an experience like no other! I also got to ride camels in the desert and spend the night in an authentic Bedouin tent, which was is something everyone should get do.
I was also lucky enough to have the time to extend my trip, so I spent an additional two weeks in Israel. Most of the time was spent exploring the amazing city of Tel Aviv, known as “the city that never sleeps” thanks to its amazing restaurants and nightlife. I went to the Ramat Gan Safari Park outside of Tel Aviv and met up with a keeper found on Facebook, boy was that an experience! I got to go behind the scenes and watch elephant training sessions, stand about three feet away from two six-month old Asian elephant calves, and hand out enrichment to the zoo’s huge collection of primates.
I also spent three days scuba diving in the paradise of Eilat on the Red Sea! The Red Sea is regarded as one of the best diving sites in the world with pristine coral reefs teeming with colorful fish. I actually got to spend my birthday diving in Taba, a small part of Egypt bordering Israel. I never thought I would spend my birthday on a dive boat and the crew even sang me a custom happy birthday song!
I arrived in Israel with a plane full of 40 some strangers, somewhere along the way eight Israeli college-age soldiers were thrown in, and we departed as a huge family. Along my travels I also met so many amazing locals in Tel Aviv and other places, and was even invited to spend some time at a kibbutz with one of the soldiers from my group.
Would I say that I became super religious after this trip? Definitely not, but I am now so proud to be Jewish, of what my people have gone through over the last 4,000 years and of where I come from. I am so happy to say that I have made lifelong friends on this trip, and I really urge everyone who is eligible for the trip to do it! So if you are even for a second think this is something you would like to do, apply! Taglit means “discovery” in Hebrew, and this is exactly what the trip is about, discovering Israel for yourself. I am also now a campus rep for Taglit-Birthright, so if this amazing 10-day free trip is something you would like to do, feel free to get in contact with me and we will get you on a trip this summer!
Sam Cohen ’14, zoo science
Student Government Board President
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