Toby Packter, who recently took part in UJIA’s Birthright programme to visit Israel, shares some insight into his experience.
I chose to go on Birthright this past summer as I wanted to experience Israel in a new light, with like-minded people my age, building new relationships with both the country and the people. Having previously been to Israel, with family and on Israel Tour with FZY, Birthright was a very different experience. I really enjoyed the dynamic mix between education, self-exploration, and kinship.
From meeting up at the airport, I immediately hit it off with a few of the group over a shared love of Crocs. We flew with El Al and passed through Ben Gurion (with my luggage!) and headed off to our accommodation.
Our first few days were based in and around Tel Aviv exploring art, culture, and food. Carmel Market is a remarkable sight with its array of choice and so many vibrant colours from the spice stalls, not to mention the beautiful shawarma!
From here we went to Jerusalem, which for many of the group was their first time at The Kotel. I was approached by a Rabbi (there
were a few there!) to lay tefillin. Very appropriate as I was wearing a Leeds United shirt and I suspect they will need all the help they get this season. Bizarrely, when I got back to my phone, there was a message waiting for me from one of the Rabbis in Liverpool (my adopted hometown) saying hi, and that he had heard I had put tefillin on. The Lord works in mysterious ways!
One night in the desert (yes, there was Wi-Fi!) where we enjoyed Bedouin hospitality and meditating under the stars, and then it was on to the Dead Sea area and Masada.
There are so many highlights of the trip. The first has to be hiking up Masada. We got to the top just in time to watch the sunrise. Then at the Birthright mega event where there were over 4,000 Birthright participants from all over the globe. We danced with Argentinians, chatted to Canadians and got to know people on the other UK trips. It showed just how much bigger this trip was than I had previously realised. On top of all that, there were also Israelis my age on the trip which helped ground the experiences; sharing stories, finding similarities, and comparing differences to how we live our lives whilst simultaneously making lasting friendships was a real high point for me.
I would encourage anyone to sign up for this amazing experience. It opens doors and allows you to explore your own identity in a way that is very personal. The trip is not one size fits all and empowers you to explore your own heritage for yourself.
The ten-day trip was great, with some staying on slightly longer. For many, this was their first trip to Israel and I am sure that with the help of UJIA, it will not be their last.
Birthright is open to people aged 18 to 32 with at least one Jewish parent (or who have completed a conversion process). For more information visit Ujia.org/birthright-israel.