Last night, Yair and I delivered our participants to Ben Gurion airport and concluded the whirlwind of a tour that was Birthright. I’ve been scared to log into my email and play catch-up after this full stop break, so I thought I would take a few moments to reflect on the past ten days before opening the Pandora’s Box that is my inbox.
First, working with young adults is infinitely more fun than working with teenagers. As peer staff, my role was to get to know the participants, run exciting programming and answer questions – not to police them with the “no drinking” and “no boys” style of rules. I didn’t have to censor my actions or my speech and the hugs just kept flowing since there were no minors and therefore fewer rules regulating staff-participant interaction. The group was made up of mature, fun and interesting people who were all around our age, all outdoorsy and many of whom are or have been full-time traveling. According to the office staff and our tour guide, our trip was very different from most Birthright trips in that the entire group came together and bonded (all 43 of us!) throughout the experience. Yair and I will definitely be keeping in touch with many of them.
Second, volunteering my time made leading the program much more enjoyable and rewarding. We were treated so well and appreciated both by staff and participants throughout the trip. Getting paid even a meager wage changes expectations, demands and the work environment and so I much preferred volunteering. Not having an abusive guide this time around helped, as well.
Finally, as a group we were exposed to a lot more “real life” than I expected, exploring Israeli society with both its blessings and its challenges. We were introduced to a surprisingly large range of perspectives on immigration issues, conflict with Palestinians, religious-secular divide and so forth. Honestly, I had been expecting a fair amount of Jewish identity and “flawless Israel” style of programs and propaganda, and the candidness with which questions were answered as well as the initiative taken to design a well-rounded program was impressive. Even the itinerary was laid out in a way that gave me an appreciation for the evolution of the state of Israel, its history and its people.
In addition to the wonderful people we met, my highlights from the Birthright trip included hiking Masada at sunrise, mud fights by the Dead Sea Spa, seeing my dear friend Hanna Tova in the Old City, witnessing our fearless guide Dror break up a knife-fight in the Jaffa market Chuck Norris style, and visiting Sderot where the integration of bomb shelters and preparation against missile attacks into every element of society was dumbfounding.
Yair and I will be spending the next week and a half in Israel, during which we’ll see friends in the Tel Aviv area, visit family and teach in Jerusalem, and then hit up some kick ass scuba diving in Eilat. Blogging resumed. More pictures to come. (Click on the photos above for clearer images.)
posted by ayo