My very, VERY lucky sister-in-law has been granted permission to join one of the many Israel birthright trips that whisks her and a group of other young adults overseas to the mystical land of Israel, for the grand total of – $0! (My other sister-in-law is on the waiting list, and sis #1 won’t go without sis #2, which is why I am writing this post completed directed at her to SEIZE THE AWESOME INCREDIBLE (and free!) OPPORTUNITY that she will otherwise regret turning down for the REST OF HER LIFE.) That’s right, if you can prove that you are Jewish in any way, shape or form – even if you don’t go to synagogue and eat bacon sandwiches over Passover – but as long as you don’t practice any other religion, you’re a viable candidate. (Unfortunately, marrying someone Jewish does not grant you this privilege – which I think is unfair, because I actually made a conscious decision to marry someone Jewish whereas the others just were born that way.)
Adults between 18 and 27 and can prove their Jewish background are eligible to apply; those who have never traveled before on an educational tour of Israel, and those who have not lived in Israel past the age of 12 can also apply. I’m not quite sure why 27 is the magic age, but it just is, worldwide.
Those who get placed spend 10 days visiting the Western Wall, Yad Vashem, floating around in the Dead Sea, and tour through Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the Galilee, and all other places I have yet to visit myself. They also get the local flavor by meeting other Jewish locals to learn more about their heritage. Jon, who went on a different program during college, also went spelunking through some of Israel’s unique caverns and natural rock formations. Two of my friends met on Birthright and married several years later.
It’s an incredible experience, I’ve heard from many, that non-Jewish tourists like myself will likely never get to have, though my own kids will have the opportunity. The program is very strict about safety and does not allow participants to wander off on their own, ride public transportation, visit other people on their own, or anything beyond the planned itinerary.
How to apply: Go to http://www.birthrightisrael.com for information. Flights depart from multiple cities around the U.S. and Canada. A $250 deposit is required and refunded after the trip. Otherwise the rest of the trip costs… nothing!