“Transitioning from a group of 42 to 12 wasn’t something that had an immediate impact - mostly because Birthright was non-stop education, movement, and experience, so we were exhausted. After taking a day to settle down and hang out in our super-cool hostel, we were right back in the swing of things. Being a group of 12 now (plus Ran), it became easier to have common experiences and make decisions that best fit the group.
Exploring Tel Aviv showed us many different sides of life in Israel. In Southern Tel Aviv, we spoke with asylum seekers, explored areas affected by gentrification, gardened, saw incredible graffiti art, and much more. Closer to our hostel, we went out at night, tried some great restaurants (humus, nachos, and sharing, oh my!), and learned a lot about each other.
During the extension, we got an up close and personal view of what Israeli life means by taking an active part in it. Especially in working with youth, we saw the amazing efforts for peace and acceptance, and are filled with hope for a future of coexistence through understanding. We’re all so glad to have had the chance to spend more time in this amazing country, especially with people we were already part of a group with.”
- Raven Stone, NC State '19
“I really enjoyed the extension program because it exposed us to new narratives and perspectives. It introduced us to issues within Israeli society that we didn’t get to touch on our Birthright trip. We spent our time in south Tel Aviv, home to many asylum seekers from North African countries like Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea. We met a girl our age who fled war in Sudan and crossed the Egyptian border illegally and is now seeking citizenship. Hearing her story was very inspiring and made me feel extremely grateful for living safely in a country free from persecution and war.
I also enjoyed volunteering with the children and learning more about the work that schools like that are doing to bring together the community and build relationships with people from different backgrounds through social action. I am going to be working as a camp counselor at an integrated summer camp for Arab and Israeli children for the rest of the summer, and after our experiences on the extension I am so excited to continue learning about building diverse communities and working with children.
The gardening we did was also really rewarding. It is a cool feeling to know that our help in the garden will give back to the community and serve people in the area in a unique way. Overall, I really enjoyed this program and feel lucky to have had the chance to learn more about this facet of Israeli society and give back, even if it was in small ways.
I will carry what I learned with me for the rest of my summer in Israel as well as back to Chapel Hill, and I will strive to keep asking questions as our amazing Israel Fellow, Ran, always encourages us to. Thanks to everyone who made this trip and experience possible for me and my friends - I am so grateful to have had this opportunity, and grateful to have had Ran guide us on his last Birthright and extension trip.”
- Emily Adcock, UNC-Chapel Hill '20
"The face of Tel Aviv we all knew before this week was sandy beaches, tan bodies, delectable street food, the bustling market, and the "start-up nation." As Ran told us about many of his friends that live in the area, even many of the locals do not stop to pass through the dense, greenless streets of southern Tel Aviv, as we have been over the past week. Although, more than anything, we have been enjoying our time together, we also have made our best attempt to observe and appreciate the surroundings of these areas, the underappreciated, less stereotypically picturesque sides of town. We have done so through the most accessible form of transport, aka walking on our own two feet, which has enabled us to: catch glimpses of the largest, mostly abandoned bus station in the world; see street art which we were able to stare at, interpret and discuss; and interact with locals in the city, allowing us to see its diversity.
More than that, from every service activity we engaged in - from leading English learning activities with energy-packed kids in a diverse kindergarten day care to planting vegetables in an arid public garden - we were exposed to a new issue, level of complexity, regional history, and way of life in the city.
Like I said to the group on our last day of service, being able to explore the different sides of Tel Aviv meant scaling down an entire complex organism (the country of Israel as a whole) to just understanding the ins and outs of a single organ and how it serves as a representation of the system as a whole.
It is impossible not to get overwhelmed by the complex issues and abundance of information Birthright stuffs into your brain in 10 short days, not to mention the unanswered questions that arise as a result. It is easy to feel small and ignorant and want to run away (or fly home). Being able to dive into just one facet gives us a basic level of understanding of this complex nation that exists as a potential home for all of us.
Although the extension has brought me an immense amount of answers I didn't previously have access to, it also opened up a world of new unanswered questions in every neighborhood and issue we encountered in Tel Aviv. This, as our trip leaders have repeatedly told us, is a strong indicator of a successful week of learning. This week has left so many of us with both a sense of contentment in the work we have carried out and a sense of great eagerness to dig deeper and learn more. Our leaders have encouraged us to further explore these issues individually. Despite all of the questions I hold inside of me at this moment, I am so grateful for the opportunity to have had the doors opened for me to this new world of exploration which I am excited to carry with me into the summer and beyond."
- Leah Simon, UNC-Chapel Hill '20
“Even though the extension was a lot of walking, I had a great time being able to see Tel Aviv from a more personal level. I came to Israel with questions and although some of them were answered, I will leave with even more to explore. Volunteering with different communities in Tel Aviv enabled me to gain a different perspective on life in Israel that I absolutely would not have gotten from Birthright alone.
Something that I’ve been thinking a lot about is the struggle between being a demographically Jewish state and helping refugees. It is a Jewish value to help those less fortunate than you, but helping refugees could shift the demographics of the state so that it is no longer Jewish. There is no clear answer to this, like most things, but I’ve enjoyed discussing challenging questions like this one." "Shalom, chaverim!
- Rachael Stone, UNC-Chapel Hill '21
On Birthright, we learned a lot about the country, our Jewish identity and ourselves. On the extension, we have been able to get out of ourselves and broaden our knowledge by volunteering and learning about other parts of Israel. So far, we've connected with refugee families here and helped clean up the area.
We volunteered by gardening, weeding and taking out trash in order to clear out a space. This was a little frustrating at first, because we thought it was just going to entail planting, but at the end I think it felt good to see the large change we created, and how much nicer the area looked.
I liked being able to give back to the community that I had just spent 10 days connecting with. It's really cool being able to hang out with younger kids and CONNECT with them even though we don't speak the same language.
We also talked to an asylum seeker, who definitely gave us a new perspective. She shared her narrative with us. It really brought to mind that not everything is perfect, including the complicated Holy Land I have grown up learning about. Of course, every person and every place is more than meets the eye. I'm glad to have the opportunity to learn more in depth about Israel on this program."
- XOXO, Sarah Horvitz, NC State '20