Would You Say No to a Free Trip to Jersualem?

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“The trip lasts 10 days. The memories last a lifetime. Join more than 360,000 Jewish young people from 65 countries who have received the gift of a free trip to Israel.”  

The following is the headline for the website of Taglit-Birthright Israel- the biggest global organization planning “birthright trips”. “Birthright” is a free trip to Israel for any young person who has any kind of Jewish heritage that has never visited Israel. The stated aim of such trips is to help young people learn more about their Jewish roots and give them a stronger connection to the area.

While the Jewish Taglit-Birthright Israel trip is rather well known, there also exists a less known opportunity for the other side of the issue- young Palestinians. Much smaller in notoriety or size, it serves a similar purpose- giving young people with a historical connection to the area a means to visit and reconnect. Both serve as a means for young people to understand the area and rediscover their historical roots and respective cultures of the area.

Like seemingly everything in the Israeli Palestinian conflict, the trips are controversial and can raise some strong opinions, from both outside and inside the communities. Yet whether one supports the trips or not, it’s pretty undeniable that they are an important facet of both communities. The opportunity to leave your country, all expenses paid, with other young people like yourself, no matter what the message behind it is, is usually simply too hard to decline. As these groups continue they will likely play a big role in building attitudes towards the conflict amongst young people.

To get a better understanding of these trips, I spoke with participants of both.

Taglit Birthright

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Masha, age 21, Ukrainian

1. What is your background?

I was born in Ukraine, in a Russian-speaking family. My Dad is a Pole. For a very long time I didn’t know I was Jewish. It wasn’t a secret, I just hadn’t realized it. I understood my Jewish roots at the age of 13. My family, as most families with a post USSR upbringing, wasn’t religious.

2. Can you tell me how you found the tour?

Taglit is a very famous tour. A lot of my friends visited Israel with Taglit. So, as soon as I turned 18, I applied with the documents for the program. And at 18 I was discovering my jewish keit*, so the trip helped me in it.

(*Hebrew for Jewishness)

3. What were some of the highlights of the trip?

Usually the guides of groups offer to chose Jewish names. I think it is very nice – people are taking something Jewish, but already personal with them.

4. Why are trips like this organized?

Taglit is aimed at young people with Jewish roots, who don’t know about their origin. A lot of people, even from my Taglit group found themselves being Jewish straight before the trip.

5. What was the group you were with like? Young? Politically involved? Religious?

Most of my group was 22-23 years old. Mostly students, or those, who recently finished university. Nobody spoke about politics during the trip – we were all about new impressions that we were getting every moment. About religion, most of my group discovered Shabboth for the first time. For 90% -Taglit is absolutely new experience.

6. Would you encourage other young people with Jewish heritage to take part?

Taglit is very inspiring. Everyone leaves Israel with sadness and a strong desire to come back. And most of Taglit-people do. They come back later as a Masa students and after do Aliyah – become a newcomers, new citizen of beloved Israel.


Know Thy Heritage

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Terick, age 24, USA

1. What is your background?  

I’m Palestinian by origin and an 8th Hungarian, but an American citizen. I was born in Germany and lived there and Kuwait, Cairo, and the Washington, D.C./ Virginia area. My family is scattered all over, mostly in Lebanon, Jordan, and around the US- all of them refugees. My grandparents initialy fled Palestine in 1948 when they were about 13 with their families by camel 20km north to southern Lebanon. They stayed in bourje al Barajni camps and ain el helwa. My parents moved to the US dutiny the Lebanese civil war when they were 17. My mom alone and my dad with his family, which is how we ended up with citizenship.

2. Can you tell me how you found the tour you were a part of?

I was studying law and international relations when I applied for this program. It’s called KTH- Know thy heritage. Funded and founded by the Holy Ecumencial Foundation, headed by Sir Rateb Rabie who is some Palestinian dude knighted by the Queen for his charity work. It’s a Christian group most with the intention of uniting the diaspora and educating the group about their heritage and the public through alumni events about the Christian presences in Palestine and their involvement in the conflict.

3. What were some of the highlights of the trip?

We spent 90% of the time visiting religious sites- Christian, Palestinian, and Jewish . We saw the Wailing Wall, Nuzerath, Dome of the Rock, the Jordan crossing into Israel and then went to the West Bank. It took about 9 hours to get in, I was interrogated but it wasn’t too bad. We went to refugee camps and started a $30,000 pledge which we completed last year to help with the infrastructure of the camp. I got to see where I‘m from, Akko which is dope and basically every major city in Palestine/ Israel. Jerusalem was my favorite for sure- so beautiful. Also seeing the Samaritans in the mountains was cool. It was mad fun, we got to explore the city, me and my homies on the trip. We went out with the locals and got fucked up. We got to learn traditional dances and shit like that too. The trip was actually pretty insane and we did just about everything you can imagine. We ate mad food went shopping in the local flea markets.

4. Why are trips like this organized?

We were invited as guests of the holy patriarch in Jerusalem, the head guy of the church. It was pretty cool, we met a lot of the political leaders (none that you really respekt though..), also the heads of banks and corporations to show the development and future plans of the West Bank. There was a ceremony where the Vice President gave us a symbolic key to Palestine. It was televised and was viewed upon as some type of solidarity between the diaspora and the Palestinian population. The agenda was not politoval.

5. What was the group you were with like? Young? Politically involved? Religious?

The group was multicultural and diverse in its religious backgrounds. Christians, Atheists, Muslims, Palestinians from South America (mostly Chile and Hondurans), some from the Middle East, people who had never left the US before… The group was 18-25 years old.

6. Would you encourage other young people with Palestinian heritage to take part?

Anyone with any type of link to Palestine can go, just apply and pay for the airfare. There is an interview process since there is also an alumni association they want you to stay connected to and want to know what you can do for their organization, I’d recommend it to everyone. So gangsta.


While at first the birthright trips may seem a bit strange from the outside and whatever your opinion on this matter may be, I think it’s safe to say that informing more people about the situation is not a bad thing. No matter what your historical roots are, the VERY high odds are is that somewhere in your lineage your family has been a part of some complicated political times. Yet not many of us get to revisit these places and see the impacts first hand.  If anything, hopefully it can get the next generations of decisions makers involved in this issue and get new conversations going. And this, could be a very powerful thing.

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