A Memorable Week for Siblings in Israel

I began writing this as our children were airborne from Tel Aviv to New York at the end of their seven-day Taglit-Birthright Israel trip.

For a week, we had monitored Instagram and WhatsApp for photos and messages, hoping that our daughter and two sons were enjoying the trip and taking in everything they were experiencing.

The boys, ages 29 and 23, had toured parts of Israel in 2009, when the older one played on the U.S. youth soccer team at the Maccabiah Games, and I brought his brother to watch. This was their 31-year-old sister’s first trip to Israel.

Get The AJT Newsletter by email and never miss our top stories Free Sign Up

Since childhood, the kids have heard about their mother’s college adventures in the Middle East, our life and work for CNN’s Jerusalem bureau in the mid-1980s, and our other visits to Israel and elsewhere in the region.

So, we were eager to hear their impressions.

Israelis asked about their Israeli, non-Biblical names; more than one assuming, incorrectly, that because of those names our children could converse in Hebrew. Our daughter heard Israelis pronounce her name correctly.

We delighted at pictures of the kids together at the port in Tel Aviv and on the plaza at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. They shared video and photos from the Old City and the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, the Carmel market and an underground nightclub/art gallery in Tel Aviv, a Bedouin encampment in the Negev desert and the Dead Sea.

In between arriving pre-dawn on a Thursday and leaving in the first hour of the following Thursday, they got a taste of Israel, albeit a thin slice. “Every day was like three days packed into one,” our daughter said. “It was go, go, go.” There are places we would have wished them to see, but only so much that can be accomplished in such a limited period of time.

We credit our middle child, who persuaded his siblings to do this together. This trip was for 27- to 32-year-olds, so a dispensation was needed to permit the youngest to join his brother and sister, allowing them to share the memories. The timing was important, because this was the last trip before Birthright drops the upper age limit back to 26, from 32, where it has been the past five years.

A few weeks ago, I began an interview with Zohar Raviv, Birthright’s international vice president for educational strategy, by asking, “What are my kids going to get out of this trip?”

“I don’t know what your kids are going to get,” Raviv replied. “I know what I intend for them to get.”

Raviv’s criteria for success was not a young adult returning having “figured out” their relationship to Judaism and to Israel, but rather coming home and saying, “I finally understand how hard it is to understand.”

As if to validate Raviv, our youngest acknowledged, “I don’t know enough,” as he asked about facets of Israeli religious and political life that he had observed or heard discussed.

At the Western Wall, the young men and women were separated for prayers. At Mount Herzl, where prime ministers and other historic figures are buried, the Israelis accompanying the group talked about comrades from the Israel Defense Forces whose graves were nearby. They toured Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. They dined and slept under the stars in a Bedouin tent. Extreme mid-day heat forced them to ride the cable car, rather than hike to the summit at Masada. From the city of Sderot, Gaza was visible a mile away.

Throughout, they were challenged to consider their connection to the Jewish people, the parts of Judaism that might cause them to feel conflicted, and which Jewish values are important in their lives.

They made friends among their traveling companions and got on well with the Israelis leading the trip and ensuring their security. They heard a wide range of viewpoints on a variety of issues. Their experiences were described variously as being interesting, educational, and in some cases, “cool.”

Our children understood that there were aspects of Israeli life that they would not confront on a Birthright trip. “We try to present to our participants an Israel that is delightfully imperfect,” Raviv told me. Based on what our children reported that aim was met.

All three said that they would like to return sometime. Maybe next time their parents will join them.

Originally published at https://www.atlantajewishtimes.com on September 29, 2022.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store