The day is Friday, and the time is 3:30pm. I sit in my room, slightly hung over from more Thursday night Monkey Boys than I could handle, browsing through travel pictures and videos. School is dull, the weather is bleak, and travel pictures and videos are the exact opposite of both of those things. My attention is largely focused on those from my most recent travels–an all-too-short, 10-day stint in Israel–from which I returned about a week ago. As such, it is time to muse philosophically, attempt inspiration, and share whatever new things I think I’ve learned about myself and the universe. Same old.Israel, in two words, was intensely fantastic. I truly loved almost every minute of it, save a few art museums, and simply cannot wait to go back. There are several reasons for this:
1) Israel was gorgeous, funky, progressive, novel and lively, and embodied everything that would have made the middle school experience a whole lot easier: stand up for yourself and what you believe in, appreciate what you have, and respect others around you as best you can. Very refreshing.
I’m actually going to get the pictures out of the way in this section, but I’ll be trying something a bit different this time. Below, you will find five pictures, whose power and vision could likely move mountains and/or crumble militarized nations. However, in order to see more pictures of similar serenity, you will need to friend me on Facebook (Will Wolf, Penn State, firstname.lastname@example.org), or follow me on Twitter (@willw9). The remaining photographs will be available through these mediums.
Mmmm. K. More reasons why I loved Israel:
2) People often speak about Jews going to Israel for the first time, and feeling some sort of sensationalized “connection” with the land. Predictably, this, well, happened. To be honest, it wasn’t some sort of out-of-body cosmic awakening that took place, or anything along those lines. Simply put, the large majority of the things that we did reminded me of some part of my ~12 years of childhood Hebrew education. I thought this really cool. I had seen thousands of pictures of Jerusalem before, to the point that it almost didn’t seem like a real place, but actually being there in person really resonated with those memories. Big up to Temple Beth Hillel Beth-El.
3) I was with the same ~35 people all the time. We slept for about four hours each night, which means we spent about twenty hours each day with one another. We were together not just for the drinking, not just for the makeup and hair gel, but for the tooth-brushing, fatigue, and moments of crass imperfection. At my current stage in life, this depth of relationship is special and rare, and having it in its entirety for those 10 days is what really made the trip unforgettable.
Right-o. So the above highlights the facts, and the below highlights, hopefully to your childlike bewilderment, my educated opinion on the matter.
Here’s what I learned:
The biggest thing that I learned in Israel has nothing to do with Israel at all. This lesson has to do with people, how we are programmed, and the general biology that is being human.
As mentioned, it was so seriously awesome to be with the same lovely individuals all the damn time. By the end, we all became very close, and I would consider almost every person in our group to be a real friend.
To this, most people said we got lucky. They said we were lucky that everyone got along, and even more lucky that everyone was really cool. They said that they could not have hoped for a better group.
Personally, I don’t necessarily agree. Yes, we had a fantastic group, and yes, everyone became really good friends. However, I do not think that “luck” had anything to do with this whatsoever.
In my esteemed opinion, the reality of our friendship by the end of the trip was not a by-product of luck, but a very predictable extension of human nature. We, like zebras and turtles and tuna, are simply animals chillin’ on Earth. Our bodies look a certain way, and our minds are programmed to operate in a certain fashion. As such, it became clear that by being constantly together, coupled with an unwavering influx of positive emotion, we were biologically mandated into friendship. Again, it certainly helped that our group had some color and personality, but the simple combination of togetherness and fun activities is what really spawned connection. Furthermore, this phenomena is what truly and naturally resonates with us as humans, and is fully essential for smile and survival; whoever said you need friends to get by was a pretty smart dude. Lastly, I’d like to say once more that it was unmistakably wonderful how close we all became. I just don’t think we ever really had a choice.
On to Birthright. Birthright is a program that sends 18-26 year olds to Israel, for free. We paid for the alcohol, and we paid for the souvenirs, but that was truly it. Birthright supplied the food, the lodging and the transport, and was essentially a streamlined Israeli summer camp / history lesson. We did a lot, and we learned a lot.
Again, Birthright is free. The trips are funded from one large pot of gold, which is mostly comprised of the personal fortunes of a few Jewish families. These trips are probably valued at around ~$6,000 per, and again, they are handed out rather liberally to thousands of North American Jews each year. If someone is just giving away dollars of that volume, they are probably very smart, and more importantly, they must have a very, very good reason for doing so. Birthright has goals.
There are two very central, well-documented objectives of Birthright trips, which are as follows:
1) To instill a sense of Zionism or “Israelism” in all. They want you to form a personal bond with Israel, and they want you to return.
2) To further the Jewish population, in whatever sexual or non-sexual context you wish to choose. The Jews need support, and the Jews need numbers.
Again, the brains and wallets behind Birthright are wildly intelligent. You don’t acquire that type of fortune by being stupid, but even if you did, you simply wouldn’t be stupid enough to give it all back without a really good reason. Let’s look at the agenda more closely.
The trip is free, so you do what they say. They (the Birthright higher-ups) have chosen who the speakers are, what the speakers say, the activities we all do, and the general chronology of the trip. The aggressively pro-Israel speaker at Independence Hall and the movie about the Syrian bride (think extra hard) are not an accident. Again, the trip is free; you must do what they say, and go where they go.
Next, take a moment to consider the schedule. We only slept for four hours each night, which means we really packed a lot into each day. The trip itinerary included a bit of everything–from education, to nature, to drinking–but as most would agree, it definitely wasn’t quite enough of each. Regardless, by the end, we couldn’t even remember what we did on any given day. We were exhausted, delirious, and our brains were thoroughly puréed into one large bowl of wow-I-had-the-greatest-time-ever-in-Israel-and-no-I-don’t-really-remember-what-we-did-but-I-made-great-friends-and-simply-can’t-wait-to-go-back soup. Again, I would argue that none of this was by accident.
Furthermore, the Birthright higher-ups are so very well-aware of the friendships that are consistently formed on their trips, and the explicit reasons as to why they are formed (see above). More importantly, they understand that by design, these connections are forever centered around the notion of Israel; every laugh, smile, group picture or 3-months-later Skype conversation can all be traced back to some part of the culture. Again, it is these connections that really resonate with our biology, and the chemicals in our brain will therefore tell us that we long to revisit them. By definition, they will also be telling us that we long to revisit Israel as well. We all want to go back.
That’s pretty much it. By handing out free trips, and allowing you to extend these trips for as long as you like, the daunting genius of Birthright has free reign to make us all fall in love with Israel. We love the culture, we love the people, and we love the cohesion and brotherhood which they embody. As we should.
In time, we’ll all go back. In time, we’ll all pour our own money into the Israeli economy, and hopefully, we’ll all bring new Jews into this world. Although my tone may seem condescending, this is not my intention. The Israeli culture is truly beautiful, and Birthright does a beyond excellent job of artfully commanding your brain to agree. Finally, even though I believe I was critically aware of their methodology, it still worked so very well. Paradox? Maybe. Regardless, I’m definitely going to Shabbat dinner tonight, and I am definitely wearing an Israeli Defense Forces rubber bracelet while listening to Idan Raichel. O, and I dearly miss my Birthright friends as well. Brilliant f*cking program.
Lastly, I’d just like to say that anyone lucky enough to have the opportunity of Birthright should jump on it quickly. It’s free. However, like anything, take it with a grain of salt. In addition, please extend your trips for as long as your budgets/mothers will allow, and try your very best to learn about Israel on your own terms. You’ll probably fall in love with it just the same.
Here’s where I sign off with L’chaim, right?,