Alright so lets start off with some information. Birthright (as I know it) is a concept held by many organizations to provide a trip, free of all charge, to Israel for Jewish people of ages between 16 and 26. This is intended to show us youngun’s what Israel is, and to encourage us to make more trips in the future. It’s an organization that many people donate to, and has been going on for about 9 years now (I think). The group I went with was part of the organization Israel Outdoors, and the trip I went on was the LAX trip from May 14th to May 26th.
Over the days of this trip, I kept an outline of all the activities we did and some more important details. I hope to recall the smaller details and turn my 8 pages of notes into 10 posts. It will be set up with the description on the left and the pictures I have taken on the right. When it is all done, I will create a webpage that will be easier to navigate and will have larger photos (probably). That will as well link to the other people on my trip.
And I’d just like to say, before starting this off, that this was an amazing trip. And if you have not been on Birthright, and you are eligible to go, THEN GO. If you need further convincing, read the rest of my report.
And by the way, this is an awesome song.
May 14th, 2005
I left the house around noon, something of that sort, and went to the San Jose airport where I checked in my bags and met up with Michelle! An excited hug and then we found a place to chill. We started to list movies that we needed to see and I drew this weird protesting guy (I really liked how it came out too).
The flight from SJO to LAX was short, and I really didn’t notice it. Once we got off at LAX we had to get our bags out of baggage claim and take a shuttle to another terminal with all the international flights. We were really early. The emails had told us to arrive 4 hours before departure, and we got there about an hour early if I remember correctly. So we had a very nice dinner in the restaurant there, and then went outside to try to see someone with the Israel Outdoors t-shirt on.
Here we decided to play an extremely entertaining game which we entitled “Find-The-Confused-Jew” in which we looked for people who were probably Jewish, and looked completely lost, which these two features would confirm that they were on the Birthright trip with us. We didn’t say anything to these people, just guessed, and actually it turned out later that we had a pretty high success rate. I remember seeing Dan, and Jessica, and a few others.
Soon we went inside and found the person we needed to find and went upstairs where we saw all these strangers who we would come to know very well over the next 10 days. Kind of awkward, and I had no idea that there would be 40 people (I was thinking around 20, 30 at most). Met our group coordinator, Meredith, and our group… whatever, Shmulek (Sam).
We went to the check-in counter for El-Al, the Israeli airline, where we were INTERROGATED. These Israeli security people bombarded us with question after question about pretty random stuff, trying to catch us off guard or test if we were lying. My guy was especially mean, and asked me about being Jewish, why I wanted to go to Israel, if I could speak Hebrew, why I hide my Star of David pendant (it just goes under my shirt!). It made me really nervous, but they were doing their jobs.
Then we sat in the Gate area and made introductions. We got in a circle leaving our bags to do this (which I knew was a bad idea) which turned out to be a bad idea because the security people made us all leave and come back in one by one with another security check.
Got on the plane a bit past midnight, and were on our way to Israel!
May 15th, 2005
On the flight, I sat next to this seemingly crazy Israeli lady who occasionally would say things to me, even though I made it clear I didn’t speak Hebrew (she acknowledged this, but would still talk to me). I slept a lot. A lot. I woke up once and saw some large city which I assumed was Denver, or Omaha, or Chicago. Something in that vicinity. I read a bit of my book, 1984, which I was determined to finish by the end of the trip.
We made a small stop in Toronto, where they had us sit in a lounge that had some ok coffee and Orthodox jews in the corner praying.
Got back on the plane for the longest part of the trip, the 10 hour flight to Israel. Fortunately the crazy Israeli lady went to another seat (I think she wanted someone to talk to), and I got two seats all for myself. This was very lovely for me, cause I could stretch out and have a very nice sleep. The movies were bleh so I didn’t have to worry about that, and I spent the time sleeping and reading and listening to my iPod (which lasted the entire way considering I turned it off when I slept).
When we finally got off the plane, I checked beneath my seat and found some torn up photos that I had seen the crazy lady looking through earlier. Why had she torn them up? There were pictures of small cute children on them… which seemed incredibly depressing. I wish I could have talked to her about whatever it was troubling her. I took some pieces so that at least someone in this world will have these fragments of a moment, and not be thrown into the garbage.
Then we went through customs, which wasn’t that bad (though we kind of had a race of who would get through the line first), and got our bags and met the head guy (who’s name eludes me for the moment) and our guide, IRAD!!! Who is a very cool guy.
Got on the bus, got some money from some exchange guy, and headed off towards Jerusalem (starting a day without sleeping).
note: even though the date changed to the 16th while still on the flight, i’m going to separate days at the bus point instead because it seems more correct