Raquel Gadaa kept a daily diary on her Birthright Israel trip where she documented her experience over 10 days. Now she’s opened it up for us to get an insider perspective on the journey of a Birthright Israel trip participant. Thank you so much for sharing!
My Birthright Israel trip experience was unlike no other, which is something that can really be said for anyone who has been on a trip. One of the best things about Birthright Israel is that no one leaves with the same stories, but we all leave with 40 new friends and a different perspective on Israel. We also all leave having a bigger emotional bond with Israel, and the people we met while exploring it. While on my trip in August 2018, I took daily journals highlighting the things we did so that I would be able to look back at them when I get older. I don’t want to ever forget the amazing memories I made.
Day one of Birthright Israel felt like it lasted three days. We started out our trip at Newark airport,granted it took us over twelve hours to reach Israel but our excitement kept us full of energy. We managed to start of our trip with inside jokes right away and I was excited to get to know everyone more. Finally after a long plane ride, we arrived in Tel Aviv and officially started our trip. We went right to touring, so as you can imagine we were walking zombies for a while.Before we started our journey, we met with the CEO of Sachlav – Divon. We joked and had some serious talk as well and we got to feel the love Sachlav has for us even though we had just landed a few hours earlier. After that we toured the beautiful Caesarea, learned about Rabbi Akiva, tried to picture a mansion in the place we were walking across and tried to learn each other’s names. We then drove to Zichron Yaakov, where we all had lunch, ranging from falafel to shawarma to schnitzel etc.; it was our first official “taste” of Israel. We got to know each other a little more and took pictures & boomerangs. Overall, we were slowly waking up from our slumber. Once we finished lunch we headed to our kibbutz- Ashdot Yaakov. We got our room numbers and roommates and had a few hours to rest and freshen up before dinner. This is the part where we all really started to become friends. After getting to know each other’s roommates,seeing what we had in common/ didn’t, trying to figure out how the heck to work the AC and just laughing together at stupid things, we went to dinner. Once we all had dinner together, we went to a room which I don’t think even had an official name so “the room” it is. In the room we got the usual rules and regulations speech, and then we all went around stating our names and after that we played a game called “I am sitting in a chair and calling on…” which is way too complicated to not only explain but to play as well, we ended up with five finalists. The game was pretty intense and exciting but it was a great way for us to learn each other’s names. After that we went to the bar at the Kibbutz, we danced, and sang happy birthday to Zach. Overall, day one was a success.
Today was an early wake up, we had our first breakfast at the kibbutz and then we drove to a national park and went water hiking. We stubbed our toes, got half wet, took our first group picture, laughed at each other’s failing attempts to walk gracefully and appreciated the beauty of the river. Afterward, we went to an Olive oil press, learned how olive oil is made and learned that olive residue actually makes your skin feel crazy soft. We tested beauty products, tasted different types of olive oils, and bought products and spices of our own. We then headed to Katzrin for lunch. Afterward, we drove to Mount Bental and saw the Syrian border, learned some history, walked inside a bunker. Finally we went to the activity we were all waiting for – rafting. Rafting was literally a roller-coaster type of experience. My group simply did not know how to steer our raft and we ended up getting smacked by branches, knocking people over their own rafts, and getting splashed by strangers, we couldn’t stop laughing from beginning to end. Once we finished rafting, we headed back to the kibbutz and went straight to dinner. We then went back to “the room” watched funny Israeli commercials, learned a little about commercials and then had to come up with our own commercials for either maple syrup or hummus. My group was stumped and the only funny thing about our commercial was that it sucked. Although, we shrugged it off, laughed and made the best of it. I didn’t expect each day to be better than the last.
Day three started off with humor and knowledge. We met with Neil Lazarus who talked about the situations Israel has between other countries and along with the seriousness he was able to make us laugh as well. We then drove to Tzfat and met Avraham and we were fortunate enough to hear his story and see/buy his artwork. His artwork is based on the Kabala. Then we went to the synagogue in Tzfat and learned about Shabbat and its significance. Afterward, we grabbed lunch from the streets of Tzfat and shopped at the markets for souvenirs. I left Tzfat with a satisfied stomach, huge smile, and a drum. We then went to a winery where they make their wine out of everything BUT grapes. We tasted pomegranate, passion fruit, blackberry and dark chocolate wine. We taught the tour guide of the factory that “watery” is a real word, and we toasted to our friendship with each other getting stronger. After the winery we drove to Ganim beach the best part of the beach was the color we left in. We ended the night by sharing stories about our favorite Jewish memories and hanging out together by the “fancy” rooms. All in all, day three left us with the feeling of our friendship being sealed.
Day four we left our kibbutz and started driving towards Jerusalem. We had a pit stop and a few people got to ride some camels. We then went to a lookout point to see Jerusalem from afar and said Sheyicheyanu – a blessing you say when you do something for the first time. We then picked up our eight soldiers. We had a speed dating activity to get to know the soldiers which was really fun as well. We then had lunch at the Jewish quarter and then went to see the Western Wall – which was emotional for everyone. After that we drove to the Caesar hotel, we had dinner and had a dancing with Israel activity. We were excited to spend the weekend in Jerusalem.
Day five started solemnly. We started the day having a Holocaust session which then led to going to the Holocaust museum. Afterward we headed to Machane Yehuda for lunch and had to buy a mysterious Moses gift for someone in the group. We then headed back to the hotel and got ready for Shabbat. We lit candles by Rabbi Jeff’s house and then went to the Kotel; I got to see my family there which was great. We then walked back which was extremely long but fun. Once we got back to the hotel, we made Kiddush and then had our mysterious Moses activity,everyone gave their gifts and I got a Magen David necklace from my friend Emma. We ended the night playing Uno, and eating a bunch of junk food, happy that it was finally time to rest.
Day six was Shabbat and we got to wake up around noon time which was the best! After we ate lunch we all just hung out for a while, whether it was in the lobby or by the pool, until we had a dilemma activity. We talked about different dilemmas regarding Israel and discussed it with our groups. The soldiers then prepared a game for us, we had to make a skit using words they gave us and then we played “who knows the soldier best.” Afterwards we got ready for our night out,said Havdalah, and headed to Ben Yehuda and danced all night. We walked back to our hotel realizing that we only had another five days together; we didn’t want this to end.
Day seven, we loaded the buses and had a talk with gift of life, where we were encouraged to sign up to be a possible donor to save a person’s life. We then went to Mt. Herzl, we visited the cemetery of the Israeli soldiers that bravely lost their lives for the freedom of Israel. After the solemn afternoon we drove to an outdoor mall for lunch, and then headed to the Bedouin tents.We stopped at Bedouin hospitality and a woman told us her brave story about how no matter what was thrown her way as a Bedouin woman she rose above and went after her goals. We learned how Bedouin tents usually work, if you take off your shoes it means you want to stay long and if not, it means you’re in a hurry, and how coffee is always made in front of the guests. After this, we had dinner at the Bedouin tents and it was seated on the floor which was pretty chill. Later that evening, we went stargazing and saw a meteor shower, and we had a bonfire where one of our soldiers, Yuval, played guitar and we sang along, it was such a warm feeling. While sitting around the fire we roasted marshmallows and sang for a while. Overall, Bedouin tents showed me how to be more humble and appreciate life and everything you have, it also taught me how you don’t have to live glamorously to be happy.
Day eight started at 4:30 am, we were woken up for our Masada hike. After the long hike and a few pictures, we went to celebrate a few people’s bar and bat mitzvahs. This moment was probably the most surreal thing I’ve experienced throughout the whole trip. Just hearing everyone’s stories and seeing them embrace their Jewish identities filled my heart with so much happiness. It was a perfect way to show the world that no matter what, if you’re Jewish you’re Jewish, and if it takes you six years to connect to that Jewish right of being bar or bat mitzvah that’s okay. We danced with the newly bar/bat mitzvahs and then stopped by a synagogue that was on the mountains in Masada, that ended the hike and we walked back down blasting 90s/2000s hits and reliving those good ‘ol “bat mitzvah” songs and memories. We then headed back to the Bedouin tents for breakfast, and then went to the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea was also such a great experience and it was so much fun taking pictures with everyone and “cleansing”our skin. After the Dead Sea we stopped to say goodbye to our soldiers. This moment was filled with such love for everyone and we didn’t want to let them go! They were such an inspiration and amazing addition to our trip and without them nothing would’ve been the same. We then headed to kibbutz Kramim. We had dinner and everyone headed to their rooms, some of us hung out together in different rooms as well. That night was the most chilled night and is so important to me because I really got to bond even more with a lot of people.
Day nine we changed scenery and went to Tel Aviv, we toured until we reached shuk Carmel,we shopped and had lunch and got to see all the artists’ works they were displaying. We then went to the Taglit Innovation center we learned about all the innovations Israelis have created,different apps they created – like Waze, we got to play a virtual reality game. We then went to Tel Aviv beach and enjoyed free pizza for being able to refer 120 people to Birthright Israel. We then drove back to the hotel got ready for our night out. We went to a Moroccan place for dinner and then went to a bar to dance together for our last night as a group. We ended day nine with one thought – we never wanted to leave.
Closing session- rap up of everything we’ve done so far. We wrote letters to each other, I got two letters that meant so much to me. It was honestly so hard saying goodbye to everyone because we really did become a family. We drove to the airport and along with my group leaders I said goodbye to everyone as they went inside. I’m extending my trip so I don’t get to spend another final 12 hours with my group. Tamar and Elizabeth said I’m practically the third head of the group, because I was #1 on roll call and because I became friends with everyone. They said I should consider becoming a chaperone for a birthright Israel trip because they think I would be great at it. I started to tear once everyone left and it was just the three of us, Tamar made fun of me and said it’s okay because I’ll see them all again eventually. Birthright Israel truly was the best ten days of my life; it lived up to the hype. I’ll never forget it, and to ensure that I won’t I wrote this. I can’t wait to tell my kids about it and I hope it’s still around when they’re 18 because I want them to experience it.
Looking back at my daily diaries really warmed my heart; of course there were a lot of minor details I had to leave out simply because writing out details about certain people and the fun things we did would result in a book. As one of my trip leaders, Tamar, pointed out, I did get to see my friends again. It has been over a year since my trip and we all still keep in touch. I see the friends I met that live in New York a lot, and I call or Facetime the others occasionally as well.The friendships I made on Birthright Israel are so amazing and mean the world to me, I love knowing that I can call anyone up at any time of the day and they would pick up. I still reminisce about my trip and wish I could go back and relive those ten days over and over again. If you haven’t been on a trip yet stop what you’re doing and sign up now, I promise you it will be the best time of your life. I came on my trip alone, not because I didn’t have anyone to go with, no negative reason at all –simply because I wanted to meet new people, be myself, make my own impressions etc. I am so extremely grateful for the opportunity I had to be a part of this experience. Suffice to say, I am so happy I came alone, because even though I walked into the airport not knowing anyone, I left with so many amazing friendships and memories that I will cherish forever. My expectations were totally beaten. To the creators of Birthright, thank you for giving me this opportunity.