Stefani Chudnow hides behind an Israeli flag on a trip to Israel.
Stefani on a 2014 trip to Israel.

If you’re Jewish or you’re heavily involved in the Jewish community, you probably know about this little thing called Birthright. Birthright is a free 10-day trip to Israel for anyone who’s Jewish between the ages of 18 and 32 who hasn’t been to Israel on an educational trip since turning 18 (with some restrictions). Birthright looks like an absolutely spectacular opportunity for anyone who can go.

Even so, throughout college, I never really wanted to go on the Birthright trip. I’ve been to Israel twice before with my schools, and on those trips I never grew fond of the formulaic itinerary. I grew tired of visiting places, listening to tour guides talk for hours and subsequently moving onto the next place. I knew that was what the Birthright trip was like and, as a result, I was never particularly interested in going. It wasn’t until I started spending more and more time at Michigan State’s Hillel house in my senior year of college that I started to feel like I should go on this trip in the interim between college and my career.

So, I’ll be leaving for my Birthright trip in less than two weeks.

Primary Birthright Expectations

Stefani Chudnow hides behind an Israeli flag on a trip to Israel.
Stefani on a 2014 trip to Israel.

Right now, I’m not exactly sure what to expect. I’ve been told about the wonderful experiences I’ll have by friends and the leaders of my trip, but I won’t know for sure until I’m there.

I’ve also compared our itinerary to the trips I’ve taken to Israel in the past.

After looking at our itinerary and my previous ones, my primary expectation right now is that the trip will be just as I feared. There will be a lot of listening to tour guides instead of independent exploration like I’d like. While I’m not very excited for this part of the trip, I’m not expecting to be too disappointed. It is a free trip, after all.

If I could’ve gone on a free study abroad trip to Europe while in college, I would’ve been beyond overjoyed. I’m trying to look at Birthright in the same way.

Other Birthright Expectations

My other expectations for this trip surround the type of people with whom I’ll be traveling. I hope I’ll become friends with  other Jewish people around my age. I’m expecting to meet diverse Jews from all walks of life who observe in many different ways.

Maybe my new friends will have one Jewish parent. Perhaps they’ll have converted at the age of 18. They may have even come from an extremely Reform background, and Birthright will be the first time they’ll be delving into their Jewish roots. I’m excited to meet them all.

The Beauty of Birthright

What I find most intriguing about Judaism is that,  although we all share similar religious values, we also come from varying backgrounds. While this is obviously true of other religions as well, Judaism is special. Our people have survived genocides, slavery and more, and now we get to travel together to our homeland courtesy of the Birthright trip. It’s an experience I’m excited to begin.

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My next blog will be during my trip, so it will be on a different topic, but I’ll update you all in mid-July when I get home on how the trip went and how it met (or failed to meet) my expectations. Stay tuned!