The best decision I’ve made in my college career was going on a Birthright Israel trip over Winter Break. You may wonder, what exactly is Birthright? Why do I hear about it all the time? Can I go? Birthright is an organization that provides any person of Jewish lineage the opportunity to go on a free trip to Israel over Summer or Winter Break for 10 days. This is an incredible opportunity to travel, discover more about where you came from and form invaluable friendships that will last a lifetime. Every student who is eligible to go on Birthright should go.
I applied to go on Birthright at the beginning of Fall 2018. I had been in Gainesville for a year already and needed an escape. I was having a difficult time with my emotional and mental health and felt a real need for human connection and perspective. I would like to clarify something: I do not actively practice Judaism. My mother and grandmother were both raised Jewish, but even my grandmother did not have her children “actively” practice. My family and I had practiced certain holidays over the years, but I’d never gone to temple other than observing friends’ Bar and Bat Mitzvahs.
What you actively practice doesn’t matter as much as what you make of the trip. UF Hillel provided an incredible Birthright experience for me because I was able to learn about where I came from while traveling and connecting with the great majesty Israel has to offer. I felt so welcome and inspired the entire time; I never wanted to leave.
One of my favorite parts of the trip — besides hiking Mt. Masada and floating in the Dead Sea — was making new friends. Our group bonded quickly and shared many stories and inside jokes, from screaming the lyrics to “Lovely Day” on the bus every morning to pranking our tour guide (whose name happened to be Shabbat, I’m not kidding). You’ll meet people who you never thought you could connect with. You may even fall in love... I didn’t, but that’s not the point of the trip entirely. The point is to make you feel more connected with your ancestors and the history of a country that has survived through so many trials and tribulations.
Birthright provided me with so much more insight into who I am and how I can help make a change in the world. Israel is such a small country that has surmounted so many obstacles time and time again, and it still is so proud and strong. It’s truly inspiring as you walk the streets of Jerusalem and feel the history all around you or see the sunrise at the peak of Mt. Masada at 6 a.m. You’ll trek through the streets of Tel Aviv, meet interesting people, stuff your face with endless amounts of shawarma and rugala and connect with the world around you. Birthright taught me to open my eyes and my heart, to look around and appreciate moments because life is short; you never know what can happen.
One of the best moments I had on the trip was when I touched the Western Wall after placing my written wish in the old stone crevices. I had never felt more connected to my grandmother and mom, who I know would be so proud that I was there. You’ll remember to appreciate your loved ones and learn to not take anyone for granted. A good friend of mine said to me one day, “Life is not about what should happen, just about what happens. You need to live in the moment and love what you have.” I have lived by that statement every day since then. Birthright truly changed my life forever, and I can’t thank my staffers Iara Dircie and Steven Breiter enough for providing such an incredible experience.
I arrived home from Birthright in the best mental and emotional state I’ve ever been in, ready to take on new experiences and love every day I have on this planet. It has offered me a new outlook on life.
This summer, UF Hillel is offering five incredible Birthright Israel trips leaving out of Miami, which I highly recommend checking out. For more information, check out UFtoIsrael.org or reach out to Lara Dircie at (305) 778-4465.
Emma McAvoy is a UF sophomore journalism major.