You may know that Taglit-Birthright is a 10-day educational trip to Israel for Jewish young adults to visit Israel and leave with a renewed commitment to Jewish values and the Jewish community worldwide. Thanks to JCCA’s Compass Project, young people with learning disabilities and special needs can also enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience. For many, the 2017 “No Limits” Birthright trip was the first time they had traveled out of the country or without their families. Social workers accompanied the group and provided assistance with any challenges that arose. According to the Compass Project’s director Valerie Rosen, “Participants learned to work together and support one another. They experienced a truly life-changing educational adventure and left feeling more self-confident, and connected to one another and to their Jewish Identity and community.”
Below are the reflections of a few Compass participants who participated in this year’s Birthright trip.
Jesse Millman, 23
This was my first trip to Israel. It was an amazing experience. I was really impressed to check out a new country. I made a lot of new friends, both from abroad and my hometown. It felt great to learn new things, and discover new places and facts. Exploring a new country outside the US was euphoric! It was different than what I’d imagined—I had to get adaptors to charge my electronic devices and take shorter showers to save water. The food was great—falafel were homemade and fresh and you can customize them however you like. Masada was incredible, especially learning how Jews survived there, camouflaged from enemies. It’s very imperative to relate to our own heritage and learn about the Holocaust. Hiking up there I tried to count all the steps: there are approximately 183 steps! The echoes at the top were incredible. The Dead Sea was very special–floating flat on your back without worrying about sinking was great! It was really interesting talking with the Israeli soldiers and hearing their experiences. I even taught a yoga class to my fellow travelers and another Birthright group, too. The trip made me want to go abroad again with my family sometime.
Stephanie Fields, 23
My favorite part of the trip was going to the Dead Sea–it looked really pretty and I went swimming in it for a few minutes. I made a lot of friends on the trip—we were on a bus a lot of the time and that was fun. The Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem, was sad and interesting, and I learned a lot. I didn’t really know much about being a Jew before, so the trip made me feel a lot happier about that. Jews in Israel are really cool—they have great style! Jerusalem was very beautiful. This was my first big trip anywhere, and I’d love to go back. It was an exciting experience.
Ian Singer, 22
This was my first visit to Israel and I liked it a lot. I was surprised by how many people I met. A friend I hadn’t seen in a long time was on the trip, too (we took karate together when we were younger). My favorite activity was climbing Mt. Masada—it was challenging because there are a lot of steps and it took a long time to get up there. But at the top, it was an amazing view. My favorite places were the new and old city of Jerusalem—we went to the Wailing Wall and wrote notes. We met soldiers and got to know them. We asked them questions about their lives, played games, and hung out with them. Now I feel like I know a lot about my Jewish culture that I didn’t know before. We also went to a zoo, watched movies, did yoga, and visited a chocolate factory. I’d like to go back to see different parts of the country. I’ll definitely stay in touch with some of the people I met on the trip.
Melissa Miller, 23
This was my first time in Israel. We did so many things, but I think my most exciting experience was riding a donkey! (I rode a camel, too.) We went to the Dead Sea and climbed Masada—that wasn’t easy because it was really hot and very high. Rafting was really fun, and we went on a fun jeep ride. There was also a great boat party where we got to dance and sing some songs. I liked riding on the bus—it was interesting to travel to a lot of different places. I really liked being with the friends I knew and also made a bunch of new friends.
Jonah Berke, 25
My brother-in law lived in Israel and my sister did Birthright, so I’d heard about it before. We did so many things on the trip–we went to the Dead Sea, the Wailing Wall, and Yad Vashem. I loved the shopping and got presents for my family and myself. I liked Tel Aviv a lot—it was very busy—and Jerusalem is beautiful. Being on a kibbutz for a while was a nice experience. When we went hiking near the Syrian border, I was amazed at how close it is to Israel. I was a little nervous before I got there—worried a little about bombs—but felt much better once I was there. It felt very safe. The food was really good, especially the hummus, and the frozen iced coffee was delicious. I made a lot of new friends from all over the place. It was exciting to meet Israeli soldiers, and the Wailing Wall was very interesting. It was fun exploring different areas. My mom is planning to go there with our whole family, so I’ll get to see even more places next time.