Catching Israel’s Free Spirit; What’s the Catch?

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Taglit Birthright Logo

I’ve always been curious about the many stories related to fellow Jews who embarked on a journey called Taglit-Birthright. A free trip to Israel; it sounds nice, but could it really be just that without some sort of catch involved? As it turns out, there’s really not. In fact, the entire program is 100% free with the exception of a meal or two. But is a free trip worth missing out on college graduation? Is a free trip worth being surrounded by 39 strangers for 10 days in unfamiliar places? Is a free trip worth traveling to a land always in the news, a land where people are so unsure of their own safety? The simple answer to all these questions is… absolutely!

My name is Skylar Siminovsky, and I recently returned from a Taglit-Birthright experience with profound thanks to the Orthodox Union’s Israel Free Spirit and all that it offers. In complete honesty, it was not only the trip of a lifetime, it was an inspirational trip that’s changed my life for the rest of my lifetime. More than just a trip; it was a journey and an opportunity to fall in love… with Israel! I met wonderful people along the way, but if I hadn’t made the decision to skip a college graduation (a milestone for many), it would never have happened. Today, I look back and am grateful about that decision to board USAIRWAYS flight 796 to Tel Aviv with 38 other strangers, along with my brother, Malcolm.

While gathering at the airport, waiting in front of our gate, we began to get to know each other. Playing icebreakers while other people watched on, it slowly began to hit me that this was a family in the making. As the wheels touched down on Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, claps were heard throughout the plane. We had made it home. We (OU 23-182, my new family) boarded a bus and met all our staff members. Without spoiling all the details (because this is a journey everyone should experience first-hand), let me share just a few powerful moments:

I am not a very religious person, nor is that a requirement for Birthright, but the stories you hear and the places you walk all leave a remarkable imprint. Just imagine walking in the same footsteps as Judah and the Maccabees, standing in front of the Kotel (Western Wall) and leaving your own personnel message, being at the Kotel on Shabbat where it seems the whole world has stopped, floating in the Dead Sea, meeting Israeli soldiers, and camping out in the middle of the Negev Desert, the site where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob tended their herds. These are just a few of the many reasons Birthright and Israel Free Spirit are so amazing.

My mother and grandmother can vouch for me on this next issue. Although I went to Hebrew school, became a Bar Mitzvah and participated in many Jewish family traditions, I never took religion into consideration when it came to dating; if it worked, it worked. However, a few days before we made it to Jerusalem it finally dawned on me that I couldn’t continue to be so flippant on this subject. And then, we were actually asked to express our thoughts on the issue as we sat around in a circle near the Kotel in Jerusalem. There are a little over 6 billion people in the world today and less than .5% are Jews. Just sit for a moment and consider what this really means. I certainly did for the first time in my life and suddenly the importance of marrying a Jew and keeping the Jewish faith alive began to sink in. Just imagine what it could be like when future generations are represented by only .1% of the world’s population. Is that what we want? Because we are not far from it.

When I returned to the United States I began to research the possibilities and opportunities that might be available for me in Israel. Through Career Israel I hope to obtain an internship in Tel Aviv in the hospitality field. This past December, after graduating with a degree in hospitality and business, I’m including my enthusiasm for Israel in my career journey. What better time in my life to explore and develop? Not everyone will return to Israel after their Birthright experience, but what everyone will return with is a profound love and pride for a country that represents our heritage, our religion, and our people.

To find out more, please visit OU’s Israel Free Spirit and register for early updates.

From me to you, I hope everyone enjoys their journey home.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.