It’s now been two months since the Taglit-Birthright Israel I co-led returned, which is making me reflect on what’s gone on since then. We’ve gotten an entire third of our trip together twice now and I’ve also met up with several of our participants on multiple occasions.
We are lucky in that many of the participants from our trip live in the greater Los Angeles-area, allowing for post-trip meet-ups. Although we have tried to organize some get-togethers, it is tough to do, since it is the summer.
The first time I got together with trip participants was only three days following the trip, where we were all still somewhat jet-lagged and still processing the trip. I’ve also met with smaller groups on a few occasions, such as to get shwarma, to chat over a beer, or to meet up with a couple over beer. In addition to these meet-ups, we have had two nicely-attended get-togethers that attracted a third of our trip, each time that were planned, organized, and hosted by participants.
The first get-together was just participants from our trip and was held exactly one month following our return. It was nice not only for the participants to re-connect with one another, but also for us to speak with them about their experience and Jewish identities post-trip. Moreover, some of the participants had just returned in the preceding week and were still re-adjusting to their post-trip reality.
The second get-together – which was just the other day – however, was different. Not only were there participants from our trip, there were also a handful of people not from our trip. While I had wanted that only people from our trip were to attend these gatherings, I soon realized two things: 1) I don’t have control over who attends them and 2) I would be looked-on as ridiculous in my trying to stop people from joining in on our gathering (also, I was not in charge of the planning of them).
However, I soon realized something else: the Birthright trip is not meant to only stick together as a group – just because they traveled for a week-and-a-half together does not mean that, when they are back Stateside, they should remain just amongst themselves. Moreover, isn’t a lovely goal to have them come together into a larger web of relationships and the larger Jewish community?
At the get-together yesterday, for instance, was a friend of the hostess, who had not only gone on a Birthright trip previously, but had also served as a trip co-leader for another one. It was great to see him and our participants connecting about their trips and their Jewish identity.
One other thought I wanted to add: with the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict going on recently, not only have they found it interesting that they had just been there before Hamas started shelling Israel, but that they have taken a greater sense of interest in what is going on in Israel. Not only that, but they are able to connect personally with the soldiers who had been on the trip with them.
With the school year coming up in another month, it should be interesting to see how our trip participants who are currently enrolled in school will be involved Jewishly and with Israel matters.