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April 20, 2018     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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April 20, 2018

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, APRIL 20, 2018 PAGE 7A Racheli and American participants at Masada. Eliana Rudee Group photo of Mayanot 322. Eliana Rudee By Eliana Rudee (JNS)--While it is well known that Birthright trips provide American partici- pants with a transformative, often life-changing experi- ence, it is perhaps less known that the young Israelis who accompany the participants on the trip often have similarly transformative experiences. Young Israelis Ayelet,* a 23-year-old computer scien- tist, and Racheli, a 22-year-old speech therapist, accompa- nied aMayanot Birthright trip from March 12o19 with the goal of traveling the country with contemporaries eager to learn more about the life of young Israeli adults. Both reported that contrary to what they had expected before the trip, the experience made them question stereo- types about Americans, con- template their Jewish identity, and boost their pride about their own society and land. Ayelet, who is in the midst of planning a summer trip abroad with friends, hoped that the experience would shed light on what it's like to meet foreigners and travel with the same group of people for a week. Racheli, who has family in the United States, wanted to get to know other American Jews in hopes of doing another national service inAmerica or joining a U.S. summer camp in the future. Even after the first few days of the program, the American participants sur- prised both women, who had admittedly expected them to be a bit naive. Ayelet, who had "heard a lot about Taglit and Americans," said she was "amazed and surprised"when she found the participants to be "very nice and mature," as well as good conversational- ists. Racheli noted that she could tell from their many questions that they "really wanted to know more, feel and discover Israel." "In the desert star-gazing experience, I was so surprised about how people shared such deep thoughts," said Ayelet. "I was thinking about myself and my life in a particular way, and to hear how [broadly] oth- ers were thinking was really touching." Racheli, who also found the desert experience particularly "deep and touching," added: "I can tell they had a goal when they came." She told JNS that "the way they chose to sharewas amaz- ing. In the desert, some people said such deep things about their families and challenges, and shared them with us." 'Not something you take for granted' According to tour guide and Mayanot tour educator Daniel Charter, who led Ayelet's and Racheli's group, the connec- tion between the American and Israeli participants is his favorite part of Birthright. "Being a part of this is my most important work; on the other hand, it is completely not dependent on me," he told JNS. One of Mayanot's central programs of every Birthright trip is a workshop about Jew- ish identity, where partici- pants and Israelis are asked to express what being a Jew means to them. According to Charter, this activity--and Birthright, in general--"gives the Israelis a chance to see the Diaspora and its great challenges to Jewish life in a new light, while showing them what a special place they live in and what huge opportunities there are for making an impact while creating an adult life here." Racheli reflected on this activity "I had so many questions for the participants. We are all Jews, but it is so dif- Birthright on page 14A