Courtesy of

Courtesy of

By: Nathan Fishman

If you are a person of Jewish heritage, regardless of religious affiliation, consider applying for a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip. These trips last for ten days and are completely free, if you’re of Jewish descent. Ever since they started offering trips in the winter of 1999, Birthright Israel has taken 40,000 Jewish young adults from all over the world to Israel.

The Birthright program was started in 1994 by Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman. In addition to them, Birthright is sponsored by the Israeli Government, individual donors, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Jewish Federations of North America, as well as Jewish communities all over the world.

To be eligible for such a trip, an applicant must have one parent of Jewish descent, and must not actively practice another religion. In addition, an applicant must be in between the age of 18 to 26 and be post-high school. They must not have lived in Israel for more than three months past the age of twelve, and they must not have gone on a similar trip past the age of 18.

The goal of the Taglit-Birthright Israel is in the word Taglit, which is Hebrew for discovery. On the trips, participants are encouraged to discover what being Jewish means to them, and to discover what Jewish identity meant to their ancestors so many years ago by exploring contemporary Israel.

Whether you consider yourself Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, or unaffiliated, there are Birthright groups for you. There are many organizers of Birthright trips, each catering to different levels of affiliation. In addition, many campus Hillels have their own Birthright trips, which you can attend knowing that you are going with friends from your college. If you want a Birthright experience with more involved hiking, there are organizers for you as well.

While Birthright trips differ from trip to trip, there are some things that will always take place. There will always be a trip to Jerusalem, which will include visiting the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism open for Jewish tourism today, Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum, and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. There is always a visit to the Dead Sea, and there is always a visit to the Bedouin Tents in the south. In addition, all Birthright Trips spend some time with Israeli soldiers, who take time off of their service to spend time with the visitors. Many Birthright participants find meeting the soldiers eye-opening, and it is intended to help the Birthright participants see what Jewish identity means to those living in Israel, and also to see the challenges of Jews living in their ancestral homeland.

Birthright trips have numerous security measures in place, due to concerns of safety. As a result, there is one armed guard on the trip at all times, and participants travel on a bulletproof bus, with no public transportation used at all. In addition, Birthright tries to avoid bringing participants to disputed territories. As a result, Birthright trips do not travel into Judea and Samaria, the Gaza Strip, and only travel into East Jerusalem in order to travel through the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.

Birthright offers participants the option to extend their stay in Israel for up to three months. Many participants who extend use the time to see relatives who live in the country, catch up with friends who are studying abroad, volunteer in Israel doing non-profit work, or visit some attractions not covered by the Birthright tour itself. Some recommended destinations would include the Tunnel Tours in the Old City, visiting the resort city of Eilat, and visiting Tiberias, a holy city that is not covered by the trip. Time spent on extension is spent as a regular tourist, and it only costs the amount of money to reschedule a flight to extend your Birthright trip to Israel.