Ten-day Birthright trip provides once- in-a-lifetime experience and memories 

College is a time that many use to explore their heritage in the hopes of discovering their identity. For some Jewish students, this may involve the exploration of their religious or cultural roots, for which many look towards Israel.

As the world’s only Jewish state, Israel is the cultural and religious center of Jewish heritage, and for this reason, many Jewish students choose to go on 10-day Birthright trips to Israel.

“Birthright is an opportunity for Jewish students between the ages of 18-26 who have never travelled to Israel on a peer trip before,” said Mason’s Hillel Director Ross Diamond. “It’s an opportunity for students to travel to a country that’s talked a lot about in the news, and to experience it for themselves.”

Diamond stated that while the trips generally differed based on organization, most generally included the holy sites in Jerusalem, Israel’s national cemetery Mount Herzl, the Holocaust Museum Yad Vashem, visiting a Bedouin community, the city of Safed, a night out in Tel Aviv and the famous fortress Masada.

Sophomore Carleigh Ladden-Stirling noted that the many hours on the trip that had been spent travelling from one location to another provided for a great bonding experience with the many students on the trip.

“The thing about Birthright is that it’s mostly on the bus, and you don’t get a lot of sleep either,” she said. “On the flight here most of us didn’t even sleep and we just bonded. It’s like coming to college for the first time.”

While Birthright isn’t an exclusively religious trip, there are trips to religious sites due to their importance in the Jewish tradition. Ladden-Stirling was fascinated by how silent Jerusalem was on the day of the Sabbath, and the spiritual significance of the famous Western Wall.

“When you’re there you kind of feel a supernatural presence,” Ladden-Stirling said. “I had shivers down my back, and people were crying and praying. You also get to write down a prayer and leave it in the wall and it’s supposed to come true.”

Sophomore Amy Driessen’s experience was a little different due to the fact that it rained 7 out of the 10 days that her group was in Israel, which is very unusual for the Middle East.

“We actually went on a jeep ride through the Golan Heights in the pouring rain,” she said. “There were minefields surrounding us, which was really cool and a little scary. But who doesn’t want to live on the edge?”

Driessen also remembered many evenings in which the group would wind down together in their hotels by socializing and dancing. Like Ladden-Stirling, she said that the trip provided a great opportunity for socialization and meeting people who came from all over the United States.

On Ladden-Stirling’s trip, most of the students with her agreed that visiting the Bedouin community, which included riding a camel, was the highlight of the experience.

“We stayed in these tents in the desert overnight, and it was the best part of the trip,” she said. “In Israel, at night you can see the stars perfectly, so we would just lay out in the desert, and it was really peaceful.”

Both Driessen and Ladden-Stirling left Israel with an appreciation for the country and its people.

“Everyone we talked to was really nice and if you got lost, everyone would help you. I felt safer in Israel than walking around in DC,” Ladden-Stirling said.

Birthright is had many different sponsors and trip providers, and is currently thriving. Hillel Director Ross Diamond stated that the summer 2012 trip that his students had taken had been one of the most successful trips yet.

Birthright registration for summer 2013 opened on Feb. 13.