Elise Feldman discusses her amazing journey on a Taglit-Birthright Israel: DC Community Trip and how to sign up for your own!

Untitled“AAAAAAAAAACHIM, ACHIM, ACHIM, ACHIM. SIMCHA, SIMCHA, SIMCHA, SIMCHA, SIMCHA!!!!!”

These were the words chanted together at Ben Gurion International Airport as 48 jet-lagged American Taglit-Birthright members met the seven Israeli participants and Israeli guide they would be traveling with for the next 10 days. The chant echoed through the airport as we all held each other and jumped around in a circle. I could feel all of our exhaustion from the flight fade quickly into excitement. We were ready to start our 10-day journey in Israel – little did we know that each day would bring a new understanding and emotion to the words, “Achim Simcha,” which means “Brotherhood and Happiness.”

That night, we each explained why we decided to embark on Birthright. Each of us came from a different Jewish background. Some formally practiced Judaism, others explained that while culturally Jewish, they did not celebrate the holidays or rituals, yet identified with being Jewish. These descriptions also applied when we learned more about the seven Israelis that were on the trip. All were young adults like us who had either finished serving in the IDF, or were still in the IDF.

We traveled to Jerusalem on Shabbat. Before we entered the passage to the Western Wall, our guide, Iftah, stated that some of us were probably the first in our families to reach the Wall. I am not religious, and I am fortunate to say that I did not lose any of my immediate family in the Holocaust. However, going to the Western Wall for the first time brought out emotions that I had no idea ever existed inside of me. As I stepped away from the wall with uncontrollable tears coming out of my eyes, my Israeli friend wrapped her arms around me and said, “You are home.”

Towards the end of our trip, we sat looking out at Har Herzl’s monument. Iftah said to us, “I know all of you have different ways of being Jewish. Some of you say you are ‘half Jewish’, culturally Jewish, you barely identify with being a Jew – but whatever ‘Jewish’ you are, hold on to it.”

After my Bat Mitzvah, I completely stopped practicing Judaism. I stopped going to services or celebrating the High Holidays. It wasn’t until this last year that I decided to reconnect with my Jewish roots and take this trip. I have never been more physically, emotionally or mentally challenged in my entire life than I was in Israel. I don’t think I have ever cried and laughed so much in 10 days.

Israel answered a lot of questions I had, but I left with three times as many. So, I am now excited to try and answer these questions. The trip made me think about my own country in a different way and appreciate some aspects a little more than I had before. It certainly made me appreciate Israel in ways that I never thought I could.

I now have a brand new family of 57 members, and we already have plans to celebrate Shabbat together soon. I also can’t wait to celebrate the High Holidays this year and feel the love and happiness that I remember feeling as a child. That is what Israel means to me. I will never be the same because of this trip.

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Want to have an experience with peers from DC like Elise? Then sign up for the DC Community Trip!

This winter, travel to Israel FOR FREE with fellow Washingtonians on the DC Community Birthright Trip!

Am I eligible?

  • Age 22-26 at the time of application (If you’re under the age of 22, visit www.birthrightisrael.com to find a trip that’s right for you!)
  • Have not previously participated in a peer-orientated Israel trip
  • Local or ties with the Greater Washington area

Important Dates:

There will be trips in November, January and February. Exact dates will be confirmed soon. Registration for the trip opens…

  • Monday, September 9 at noon for returning applicants
  • Tuesday, September 10 at 10:00 a.m. for new applicants

How do I register?
To register, please visit www.israelwithisraelis.com and choose the “DC Community trip.” From there, you will begin to prepare for an unforgettable experience.

Please know that the registration process can be very competitive and only remains open for about a week, so it’s very important to register on the opening date and pay your security deposit as soon as possible. Once Shorashim receives your application, they will move forward with processing it and scheduling an interview. Once this is complete, you will find out the dates of your trip and further details.

Have questions?
To find out more about the Taglit-Birthright Israel: DC Community Trip (sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington), contact Sara Weiner at 301-230-7266 or sara.weiner@shalomdc.org.