This article was written in collaboration with PolicyMic pundit Tillie Adelson.
Before we were columnists at PolicyMic, Tillie Adelson and I were just ordinary Jewish twenty-somethings visiting Israel for the first time through Yael Adventures. Yael, or Birthright as it is better known, is a program that offers a free trip to the Jewish State for young Jews between the ages of 18 and 26 who have never been there before. It was an experience that both of us found deeply rewarding and would highly recommend to others ... and, like all things we love, prompted us to muse about some of its more comic aspects.
You know you've been on Birthright when:
I’m not sure how they pull it off but Israelis tend to be able to keep a very in shape physique. Maybe it’s their involvement in the army or the ridiculous amounts of hummus and veggies they eat: either way they it always seems to amaze us Americans!
Hummus, for breakfast, hummus for lunch, and hummus for dinner: there is no shortage of hummus in Israel! Every hotel you stay in has a lovely buffet breakfast and dinner and you can bet that hummus will surely be included in that menu!
It seems like the American songs which make their way to Israel are about ten years out of date. When we arrived in 2010, the night clubs were playing Hanson, Backstreet Boys, and Spice Girls. We can't wait to hear the return of Lady Gaga when we visit Israel in the 2020s.
When our tour guide told us that we might be able to visit the world's first kosher McDonald's at Mevaseret Zion, those of us with somewhat less refined palates naturally wanted to see how an Israeli Big Mac would taste. The answer was ... like an actual cheeseburger! A real, bona fide, thick, juicy, flavorful cheeseburger!
One of the best parts of any trip to Israel is getting to spend the night at a bedouin camp. Similarly, one of the best parts of crashing at a bedouin community is trying bedouin coffee, which we quickly learned is absolutely nothing like its American analogue. It's served in shot glasses and exists not to taste good, but to wake you up. And it works!
To be fair, neither of us intended to violate the bedouin's advice about the camels, THOUGH they were kind enough to let us ride. Just as we would trust a prize-winning equestrian on all matters involving the welfare and upkeep of horses, so too did we realize almost immediately that our bedouin guides knew everything one could possibly need to know about how to interact with camels. Even so, mistakes can be made, such as when one of us accidentally left an apple in our jacket pocket and found ourselves stalked by a hungry camel during our several-mile hike through the Negev desert. The results can be found here.
Americans are notorious for assuming that other countries are constantly thinking and talking about it, a phenomenon that is especially true about Israel. Yet when the average Israeli was asked about American politics, they usually responded with the same bored half-attention that an American would offer when asked about Israeli politics. The same goes for pop culture news; in fact, both of us remember leaving America thinking Jay Leno was just another comedian and returning to find out that his feud with Conan O'Brien had made his name mud throughout the comedy world! When you're in Israel, it's like being in a foreign country ... which, of course, is exactly what one should expect.
There is always that one overly-excited participant: you know the one I’m talking about! The one you spot at the airport who has the brochure in their hand and immediately greets you as if they’re the leader of the trip and you later find out they are simply a participant. Oy Vey! Once off the plane, they are already chirping in everyone’s ear about the adventures we’re all about to embark on. Although this person can be a bit of an annoyance, they are an important element to the group: you’ve always got to have someone to roll your eyes at!
Israeli fashion has certainly come into its own. I found quite a few beautiful boutiques housed by independent designers. There certainly is a booming fashion industry there, and even more so, a booming textile industry.
What’s Israel without a Kibbutz or Birthright without a Kibbutz visit? We certainly enjoyed our stay on one where we sang by the campfire, ate in the communal kitchen, and stayed in the camp-like rooms. It was actually a very welcoming and fun experience.
If you're Jewish, than you have probably been approached by a friend who has gone on Birthright in order to see if you would want to go. If you have not gone yet, our advice is surely to go, mainly for the reasons we have stated above ... but also to enjoy another country for free! This trip is literally a free lunch, and that really doesn't happen anymore. There is so much fun to be had on these trips, from the culture, to the friendships and to the adventures.