Each winter at University, I find myself wondering what to do with my winter breaks about a week before finals. Usually I spend my breaks conducting research for various labs at Rutgers, or else getting a head-start on school for the Spring. So about this time last month, while wondering what I would do with my (hopefully) final winter break of undergraduate studies, I received an email which offered a fantastic opportunity — go to Israel for two weeks on a deeply discounted program!
For those who don’t know, there are many organizations which offer free or heavily subsidized trips to Israel for Jews of varying backgrounds (Birthright Israel being the most famous). However, it’s hard to keep track of all the different programs offered by the many such organizations which have different agendas and motivations for offering such programming. In general, although all trips to Israel offer great promise at a minimized cost, it’s important to know what you’re getting into when you’re signing up; although you may be getting to participate in a fantastic Israel program, you also have to offer up a couple of weeks of your own time and are obligated to participate in all activities of the trip.
The last time I was in Israel was actually also with one such “program”. However, it failed rather miserably, and both myself and two friends who went on the program with me left disappointed and dispirited. Therefore, I was extremely wary when signing up for this trip — called “Pathways” and offered by an organization called Darchei Noam, which at the time didn’t ring any bells. However, the price was too good to turn down (when I heard about it, the price had already been discounted to $700), and itinerary seemed extremely strong, and despite a couple of episodes of doubt, I decided to take the plunge.
And I’m glad I did. All 15 days of the program were non-stop fun, with fascinating and inspiring classes and amazing touring. Despite having 20 guys and girls on the trip aged 18 through 30 and with people with almost no Jewish background at all to those with years of it, somehow every activity and every class offered something for everyone. We got to discuss core Jewish topics such as the source of our traditions, relationships, God, spirituality, history, Jewish identity. When not attending classes and activities, we were free to go more or less anywhere for however long we liked. I spent most of my free time with my family, whom I don’t get to see as often as I would like; most of my peers went out on the town.
The organization which sponsors this trip, Darchei Noam, (at least as I see it) has the mission to educate Jews on the fundamentals of Orthodox Judaism in an approachable and non-intimidating manner, and does it with profound excellence. Actually, the Rabbis on our trip were both alumni of Darchei Noam — they are so knowledgeable that you would never guess that they only got in touch with Judaism in adulthood.
For anyone who already went on Birthright or is otherwise Birthright ineligible (like I was), and wants a two-week program with heavy touring and fantastic classes and seminars, I recommend this program in the strongest terms. Birthright alumni on our trip were constantly saying how, despite how much they loved Birthright, this trip was even better. If you or anyone you know is considering this trip and has any questions, feel free to reach out to me.