Around 1,200 participants from three countries and 24 different Taglit-Birthright Israel groups descended on Israel yesterday. This is a record number of groups arriving on a single day during the organization’s winter season. Two of the groups were from Brazil and Argentina while the rest are from the US. A third arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport over a two-hour period during the afternoon.
Alexandra Wolkoff (19) from upstate New York (Binghamton) was very emotional as she made her way to the bus that would be her second home for the next 10 days. “It’s unbelievable that I’m here!” she said. “My Dad is a Holocaust survivor so this means so much to my family and me. I’m sure my Dad will be in tears knowing I’ve arrived.”
While Wolkoff’s father is Jewish, her mother was raised Catholic, but the couple decided to raise their children according to Jewish practices and beliefs. So Wolkoff, who is studying sociology and education at Haverford College in Philadelphia, is no stranger to her heritage and she is excited to be here. “I’m looking forward to a wonderful adventure,” she said.
Her friend, Hannah Turner (20), who hails from Chicago, but is also studying at Haverford College, has been to Israel before, but on her own. “I have personal connections to Israel,” she said, “but I want to find out about my cultural connections and the history of the country so I can truly appreciate everything it is.” Hence her anticipation at experiencing Israel in a group such as Taglit-Birthright.
Allyson Leavitt (20) from Long Island, New York, is studying nursing at New York University (NYU). Knowing how much she wanted to experience Israel and to feel her culture, heritage and ‘birthright’, she “took Hebrew last semester to get the feeling of Israel and the culture. Even though you can’t understand the culture through the language, it teaches you how to converse and to learn about the people through their language. I can’t wait to try the language and see what I can remember,” said Leavitt. ““I also can’t wait to see the kibbutz (Chan Hasharot Desert Camp in the Negev). I’ve heard so much about it and I’m thrilled at having the opportunity to learn more about Israel.”
Taglit-Birthright Israel, which enters it’s Bar Mitzvah year this year, has enabled 34,000 young adults from the ages of 18 to 26 to experience Israel and strengthen their Jewish identity on this free 10-day educational trip since January 2011. Over the next year, 42,000 participants will land on Israeli soil, with the aim of bringing in another 51,000 in 2013 thanks to the help of the Israeli government and Taglit-Birthright Israel’s generous donors, such as Charles Bronfman, Lynn Shusterman, Michael Steinhardt and Dr Miriam and Sheldon Adelson.
Lindsay Wolff (19), who is from San Francisco, but is studying theatre at NYU, was a little anxious about her trip when she came off the plane. She isn’t sure what to expect from the next 10 days and she realizes the enormity of being in Israel. “I love traveling and my goal in life is to travel to as many places as possible, but this place is special, obviously. I want to learn as much as I can and take it all in. I feel blessed going with a group. If I was by myself, I wouldn’t know where to start. It’s good to feel like you know where you’re going and that others are on the same path as you are.”
Photos by Ofer Shimoni & Darryl Egnal: