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Blogging Birthright: Day 1, or Orthodox Hippies & Badass Babes

Blogging Birthright: Day 1, or Orthodox Hippies & Badass Babes

I find a BFF at the airport, which is somewhat of a relief. Her name is Ashley, she’s from Louisiana, and she has an enviable southern lilt that makes all of her words sound like they end in “L.” She’s blond, perfectly made-up, and pretty like Britney Spears from her “Oops!… I did it Again” days. We have a lot in common: We’ve both dated Spaniards, come from cities with no discernible Jewish population, and are single but seeing guys we could take or leave. I zonk out on the plane thanks to the Ambien, and we arrive in Tel Aviv in what feels like no time. After boarding our bus (our second home for the next ten days), our Israeli tour guide introduces himself as Offer. He seems cool as fuck: A modern Orthodox guy in a knitted kipah, with a funky, spiritual thing going on. I've never encountered an Orthodox hippie like him, and I like it. “Welcome home,” he says over the mic. “Yeah right,” I think. “This is not just something we say,” he explains, as though sensing my skepticism. “This is your home. By that I mean: I could not go live in the U.S. if I wanted to. You can come live here if you want to. I have to get a green card and it takes some months. Thank God I do not want to live in the U.S.” Our first stop is Independence Hall. Before entering, we stand in a circle and play name games. I generally can’t stand this shit, but it's a good chance to get a better look at everyone in the group, which includes a married couple, three brother-sister pairs, one pair of cousins, a couple of friends, and a number of loners. There are also people—like Ashley—who had planned to come with friends who, in fear of bombs, ultimately backed out. In Independence Hall—where Israel’s declaration of Independence was signed—we listen to a lecture about how Israel was born. The Zionist undercurrents of the trip are already proving to be intense as the Israeli lecturer takes his place before a painting of Theodore Herzl and an Israeli flag. He holds up a map of Israel. The Jewish areas are orange; the Arab areas are yellow. “In some places, your country is seven miles wide,” he says. “It is not bad. You can come home and put on your jogging clothes and run across your whole country after work.” He asks the audience—composed of two Birthright groups—how many Jews live in Israel. One guy offers an answer of 7 million. Nope! That’s how many total people live in Israel. Only 5.5 million Jews live here. The other 1.5 million are Arabs. The lecturer aims his pointer at the vast Negev. “You see,” he says. “They gave us the desert. Great.”
Having previously dated and fought Israelis off at nightclubs, I’ve found them to be aggressive and pompous. Offer and our Independence Hall lecturer have already helped me to understand why they’re like that. I mean, they all have to serve in the army, which is the ultimate anti-Candy Land existence of American youth. On top of that, they always have to be on bomb alert. Speaking of which: Birthright takes safety very seriously. We are not allowed to take public transportation, and we have an armed medic with us at all times. Her name is Tzipi and she always sports a rifle. I love that our armed guard is a woman. She makes the “tough Israeli” thing seem pretty badass.

I’m writing this from the top bunk in a hostel in Jaffa. In a way, I don’t feel like I’m here, although I’m happy to be. I like these people and I’m honestly looking forward to knowing them better.

Previously: The Best Things in Life are Free?

Next up: Day 2, or Is This Really My Homeland?

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