By Allison Karns, Kesher Taglit-Birthright Israel alum
When I was asked to write about my Kesher Birthright experience, a few things ran through my mind. First, I realized I haven’t written a single thing since I graduated from college two and a half years ago (I work in IT). Second, I thought: There aren’t enough words to describe what an amazing Birthright experience I had (or perhaps this goes back to my lack of writing skills). Either way, Birthright is something you must experience for yourself.
Before going on Birthright, I couldn’t help but wonder if my personal safety was going to be compromised. Was this a safe time to visit? Should I worry about bombings? Well, to be honest, anything could happen at any time – but that goes for anywhere in the world. Once I got to Israel and saw how the people went about their daily lives just like you or I would, I realized there was no sense in worrying about my safety and missing out on this experience. After speaking with the locals and other Israelis on our trip, I realized it was really the people of Israel that fascinated me the most. How they manage to keep such a positive attitude and friendly spirits after everything they have been through was beyond me; the country as a whole seems to pull together and live with determination and unwavering support. I truly gained immense respect for the people of Israel. This sense of community and pride was what I fell in love with, and even in the short 10 days I was there, I really felt a part of it all.
Kesher does an amazing job of taking you around Israel and showing you as much as they can in the time they are allotted. But at the end of my trip, I felt like it was all just a tease. There was so much more that I needed to see and places I wanted to revisit! Well, lucky for me, in just three short months, I found myself back where it all began.
On Birthright, I became good friends with one of the Israelis on our trip, who invited me back to visit. How could I turn down a cute Israeli? This December, I hopped on a plane and spent my winter break with Yosi and his friends and family. Once I was back in Israel, I couldn’t help but long for the days I spent on Birthright. It felt a little empty without the amazing friends I made on my trip; being there together was what truly made the trip special. All that aside, I was ready to experience Israel without the guided tour, and after a few days, I really started to feel like a local. On many occasions, people would approach me and start speaking Hebrew. At first, they were all met with blank stares from me. But by the end of my trip, I picked up on a few common phrases, and one day I hope to speak Hebrew fluently.
Yosi made me feel at home and showed me Israel through a native’s eyes. We ate at all the best local places, rented bikes and rode along the beach in Tel Aviv, spent a weekend in the north, went to a concert, hung out with his friends – all the things a typical twenty-something would do. It was like I was seeing Israel again for the first time! Instead of acting like a tourist on Birthright, I was able to gain a sense of what it would be like to live there. From shopping at the market and cooking our meals to doing laundry and taking out the trash, I began to feel comfortable and at home in my surroundings. Although it was an ocean away from my hometown of Cleveland, it really wasn’t so different at all.
I am so grateful to have gone to Israel twice now, and I am already excitedly planning my return. Birthright introduced me to this incredible new place and was an unforgettable experience. I am so fortunate to have gained lifelong friendships and a sense of belonging to a country I can now call my home away from home.
Allison Karns graduated from Miami University of Ohio and lives in Cleveland. She currently works at Cliffs Natural Resources in their IT department. Allison enjoys traveling, being outdoors, and spending time with her friends and family.