These days, there are two kinds of young American Jews: the ones who’ve been on Birthright Israel trips, and the ones who haven’t. It’s easy to spot someone about to make the transition from one demographic to the other—the requisite pre-trip Facebook post with some kind of countdown to the date (check!), the likely mid-trip mobile upload of “Look, I’m in Israel” picture (mine will be quirky but also profound), and the inescapable onslaught of photo albums that pop up on Facebook after the trip showing new friends with arms slung across each other’s shoulders at the Dead Sea and atop Masada (fingers crossed).
On Monday, I will join the ranks of twentysomething American Jews who take advantage of the (totally free) group trip known as Birthright Israel, and I am doing everything I can to prepare adequately. Fortunately, I have quite an array of knowledgeable sources to pool information from, as most of my Jewish friends (please, I’m from Long Island) have already embarked on the very same trip.
“Get a lot of sleep before you go,” one friend advised, while someone else suggested bringing granola bars. “Wear sunscreen,” I inevitably heard, and one person even reminded me to take a lot of pictures. That part, I already understood.
While Facebook enabled the uncomfortably voyeuristic realization that all your high-school friends went to college with your camp friends and teen tour friends, Birthright Israel ups the ante, as people from all different threads of your life are thrown together, somewhat arbitrarily, for a deeply profound 10-day experience. All of which you get to watch, if not in brief photographic snippets during their trip, in full, 60-picture albums that pop up just days after they return.
I’m excited and realize that beyond the pictures I’ve seen, I don’t really know what to expect from the actual trip. I do feel as though I’m participating in some kind of new (new-ish?) rite of passage, joining countless other Jewish young adults on what will likely be an extremely memorable experience. Which reminds me, I have to go charge my camera.