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Share Your Story!

We want to highlight your Birthright Israel experiences! Did you eat the biggest falafel? Climb the tallest mountain? Make a record number of new friends? Submit your story and become famous on the URJ Kesher blog! Email your submission to rbigman@urj.org for consideration.

An Experience To Remember

By Jane HK, June 2014

Kesher Bus 449June 3, 2014 – Five days ago, I returned home after the amazing adventure of leading a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip with URJ Kesher. Since then, I’ve been trying to put my experience into words and struggling to do so. After all, how do you really describe such an intense and rewarding ten days in just one blog? But here goes!

Heading into the trip, I admit that I was pretty nervous about leading a group of forty young adults across the world for ten days. This was my first time leading a Birthright Israel trip and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I also wasn’t sure about what to expect from Israel. The first/ last time I was there was six years ago as a participant on Birthright Israel with a different trip organizer. Truthfully, that experience was not very impactful. I was hoping that this trip would leave me thinking about Israel, awakened to new issues and thoughts and leave me still questioning things I saw and learned. I am happy to report that the trip did just that.

As a leader, I knew that my experiences at camp gave me an advantage, but I wouldn’t realize just how much my camp experiences would come into play until the trip began. And then I discovered, that Birthright Israel is so much like camp, only in Israel and on a tour bus! Name games and mixers? No problem. Remembering participant’s allergies, likes and dislikes, and details about their personal lives? Well, after being a Unit Head at camp for more than one hundred campers, forty seemed small! I also was fortunate to have two friends from camp as participants on my trip and that was very comforting! It was also really special to be able to share such a meaningful experience with them.

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Birthright and Bring Israel Home: A Winning Combination

By Alisha Glass and Josh Greene, April 2014

3HavdallahApril 3, 2014 – We grew up in the same town. We went to the same temple, and attended the same middle and high schools. We knew that traveling to Israel with Taglit-Birthright Israel was something we wanted to do together as part of our coming-of-age experience.

Needless to say, our first visit to Israel was incredible. For 10 days, we bonded with new American and Israeli friends, got an insider’s look at the lives of Israeli soldiers, and crisscrossed the country – on our bus, on camels, and on foot – all the while eating new foods and engaging with the land and her people. By the time the trip was nearly over, we had so many connections to the Jewish homeland that to have it all end as quickly as it had begun seemed unfair. There had to be a way for all of us to come together again!

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Discovering a Unique Israel

By Barry Shainker, February 2014

Israel 2013-14 033February 25, 2014 – For URJ Kesher Group 231, Taglit-Birthright Israel began like any other group. After weeks of planning and anticipation, we finally assembled at the El Al counters at Newark Airport’s Terminal B. We completed the initial administrative tasks, checked in for the flight, and passed through security. While we waited to depart, we said Tefilat Haderch (the traveler’s prayer), got to know one another, and charged our electronics one last time. Finally, after what seemed liked the longest morning on record, we boarded our aircraft, named after the city of Haifa, and began our journey.

But Group 231 was unique; we were – and still remain – 50 individuals who chose to participate in an experience designed for members of the LGBTQA community. Some of us identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning; others prefer the term of “ally;” some of us chose not to label ourselves into any category. While we all had different reasons for participating in this program, the first of its kind sponsored by URJ Kesher, we all came together in a way that none of us had every envisioned.

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He Said, She Said: Finding Love in Israel

By Nathan Rifzis and Joanna Duretz, February 2014

Joanna and NathanFebruary 5, 2014 – Nathan Rifzis and Joanna Duretz were complete strangers when they traveled to Israel together in May 2012, but by the end of their 10-day trip, they were well on their way to falling in love. These days, the two are planning their upcoming wedding – and fondly remembering the trip that brought them together. Nathan, a native of Milwaukee, and Joanna, originally from Coral Springs, FL, were traveling to the Holy Land with URJ Kesher, the Reform Jewish trip provider for Taglit-Birthright Israel, which provides free group trips to Israel for young Jews ages 18-26. Here, Nathan and Joanna reflect on their relationship with Israel, with Judaism, and, of course, with one another.

Nathan: A friend talked me into going on Birthright Israel. He told me, “Hey, man, we’re getting old. Let’s cash in that free trip before it’s too late!” Before that, the farthest I’d ever traveled was to Canada. I figured a trip to Israel would encourage me to travel more and maybe rediscover my faith.

Joanna: My three older sisters had all gone before me, and they’d had a blast and learned a lot, so from a young age, I knew I would go on a Birthright Israel trip, too. I chose URJ Kesher for its Reform focus; I attended URJ Camp Coleman growing up, so I was familiar with the Reform Jewish community. I was excited to go to Israel for many reasons, but what appealed to me most was being immersed in Israeli culture.

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What’s the best way to celebrate Thanksgivukkah?

November 2013

How do you take your latkes? Which combination is the WORST idea for Thanksgivukkah? Check out what other URJ Kesher alumni think and add your own opinions!

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Kesher Connection

September 2013

kesher-alumniconnection2Welcome to something new from Kesher, just in time for 5774! The Alumni Connection will bring you timely articles about Jewish life, pop culture, social justice and more from ReformJudaism.org - and keep you connected to current events, culture and life in Israel as well as inform you about opportunities for your next Israel experience.

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With Soldiers by our Side

By Rabbi Shawna Brynjegard-Bialik, September 2013

BirthrightSoldiers_0September 16, 2013 – Our Taglit-Birthright Israel trip with URJ Kesher was almost to the halfway point when we were joined by a group of Israeli soldiers who stayed with us. They were only with us for half of our trip – but in many ways, it was the most meaningful half.

We spent five days with seven soldiers, and I believe it is that experience which helps Birthright Israel participants to understand Israel in such a short period of time. I was amazed at how open and willing the Israeli participants were to share their personal experiences, sharing details about Israeli life and what it meant to go into the army before college, a very different experience from their American counterparts. Our young participants quickly became friends, connecting in that way that only happens when you travel with a group. Our Americans and Israelis talked about what it means to be Jewish and how, for both groups, national identity superseded religious identity.

It was a personal connection to Israelis their own age that made the difference between a great trip and truly life-changing experience.

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Falafel: It’s Not Just for Israel Anymore!

By Jane Bernick, September 2013

bernicksSeptember 10, 2013 – Upon returning from a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip with URJ Kesher, some people may be ready for a little break from falafel. This was not the case for my sister Allison and me.

Even though we had eaten falafel once a day while we were in Israel, we were far from sick of our new favorite meal. The days following our return home were spent investigating local restaurants that served “authentic” falafel, but each sample of American falafel ended in disappointment. Most of the falafel we found was too dry and lacked the appropriate toppings. Soon, we gave up on the fantasy of encountering a satisfying falafel at home and instead returned to consuming the usual Lone Star State cuisine of Tex-Mex and all things fried.

One day at work, my sister looked at me, literally on the verge of tears, and exclaimed, “I was just thinking about the fact that I may never have a good falafel again. It’s so upsetting!” One of our coworkers, Ally, happened to overhear our conversation. She informed us that she had been to Israel and has since learned to make falafel that is up to the high standards of someone who has tasted falafel in the Holy Land. Ally offered to teach us how to recreate the meal we had so desperately missed, and of course, we jumped at the opportunity. We made plans to cook with her later that week.

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Through Time and Space: A Visit to Historic Jewish Sites

By Rabbi Shawna Brynjegard-Bialik, September 2013

Capture_0September 9, 2013 – Is 10 days enough time to fall in love with Israel? Absolutely. Is 10 days enough time to make a sincere and meaningful connection to the land and people? It turns out that it is.

I recently led a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip with URJ Kesher, introducing young Jewish adults to the Holy Land for the first time. Our trip was structured around the flow of Jewish history from the time of Abraham up to the present; each stop was a point on the timeline. Traveling the timeline in roughly chronological order with an educator as guide was an experience that really made our trip unique.

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