We swarmed Ben Yehuda like a plague of locusts; we devoured countless falafel and ransacked every “special sale” desperately looking for hand-knit kippahs for our dentists and a Wi-Fi hotspot in which we could Snapchat all our extended cousins pictures of stray cats. There were hundreds of us, some spiritually lost, some physically lost, but all covered in a thin layer of sunscreen and lugging two-liter plastic water bottles. We crowded the sidewalks, filled every liquor store and jaywalked slowly across the main streets. Our large pack almost created a few traffic jams, but our shouts and conversation overshadowed the honks. The wind carried our words; English slang and Sababa, the only word in Hebrew that we all knew.
After two hours and three-dozen Instagram photos of food (all falafel) we were gone in our air-conditioned bus. The only proof of our invasion was a few empty beer bottles in the trash and a booming tourist sector. I don’t know about the locals, but for us, it was all sababa. It was all good. It was all chill. It was all free. It was Birthright.
Now I’m not saying Birthright is some kind of plague or a biological invader (I like to think I am more subtle than that,) instead I am implying it with an extended metaphor (note my subtle use of like in the first sentence and my even more subtle reference to it now). From the American standpoint Birthright is amazing. It’s a fun, eye-opening, educational and free ten-day trip to the Holy Land. I’m glad I did it and will probably speak highly of it when I return to the United States. But at the same time, I can’t help but recognize it may be creating some stereotypes about American Jewish teens. I’ve heard the same story from multiple sources, some Israeli, some American, and some who prefer to be called Deep Throat and meet only in parking garages.
The Birthright reputation is this: We American teens come to Israel to drink, to party, to buy tacky bracelets, and have sex with Israelis and find our soul mates. We don’t care about the history, the politics, or the religion. Unless of course it somehow involves wine, in which case we are more than willing to participate. Some undefined amount of time later we return to Israel (all expenses paid) to marry these said soul mates and then make Jewish babies who eventually rinse and repeat. Essentially we are drunk bunnies, repopulating the Holy Land and pooping on ourselves.
But this reputation is misleading, and I can say this from personal experience. Over the course of ten days, most of which were sober, I discovered that not only will no one pay for my future Birthright wedding—I booked the Kotel for June and registered at Nordstrom—but also that I have no one to marry. For me, and for many of my peers, there was no love on Birthright. Despite my dowry of one camel ride, there was no marriage proposal. Correction: there was almost one marriage proposal but I thought better of asking the man selling nuts in the shuk to father my children. Sorry dad, you might have to wait a bit longer for grandchildren, and sorry roommates, looks like we won’t be getting that waffle iron on my bridal registry.
Not only am I still single and waffle-less, but also other aspects of the Birthright stereotype still haunt me like the bad hangover I never got during my trip. I extended my stay in Israel, and despite working and living in Jerusalem for the summer (like a productive citizen I might add), people still ask me if I am on Birthright and if I would like to buy a nice tablecloth or deep fried chickpea for half the price. I look the part, and people assume that I am still the typical “privileged” and self-indulging American tourist that cares nothing about what is actually happening in Israel and the world. This is only half true. I am no longer technically a tourist.
The Birthright stereotype is incomplete. There is so much more to the young American in Israel than an elevated blood alcohol content and a desire to repopulate the promised land with something other than stray cats and Aroma coffee shop franchises.
This is why I have decided to start this blog and document the travels of just one self-indulgent American in Israel. Because let’s face it, as individuals, no one, myself included, can be characterized by an all-inclusive stereotype. I am unique; I am much less marriageable and much more incompetent than the typical American teenager in the Holy Land.