NEXTGen Detroit sent out its most recent Detroit Community Birthright trip on December 26th, one of more than 200  trips from around the world that traveled to Israel this winter, marking the completion of Birthright’s 17th year. On the trip were 41 Americans and eight Israeli participants (all from Detroit’s Partnership Region in Central Galilee) who joined the ranks of the over 500,000 Birthright alumni that have experienced Israel on one of these free, ten-day adventures.

When Birthright began in 1999, the goal was simple: “to provide an opportunity in the hope that participants come to feel that their time in Israel is just the beginning of a much longer, and lifelong journey.” And now, almost 20 years later, the goal remains the same with the addition of targeted Birthright experiences that focus on everything from art or cuisine, to trips for the LGBTQ community or specific college campuses. Birthright’s new niche offerings connect participants not only to the land of Israel and their Jewish identity, but create a bridge between how people identify at home and how they identify with their global Jewish family.

Our Detroit Community trips are designed to do just that, bring together young Jewish adults from Detroit and our Partnership Region in Israel and include extra special experiences that don’t come standard on most Birthright trips. You can read more about what makes our trips the best of the best and register for our next trip (May 8 – 18) here.

But sometimes you just have to hear it right from the source. So we asked a few of our most recent participants from this winter’s trip to explain why going to Israel on a Detroit Community trip is so special. Here are their thoughts:

Jake Safran, 26

Originally from Metro Detroit. Currently living in Boulder, CO.
Event Specialist, A Spice of Life Catering

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Why did you chose to go on the NEXTGen Detroit Community trip?
I originally was introduced to the NEXTGen Detroit Community by my brother, Hy Safran, who works for the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. I have always felt a very strong connection to my hometown and will always identify as a Detroiter, even now residing in Colorado for nearly 10 years. I know what exceptional contributions and great strides the Detroit Community has made and currently is doing for Israel, and I thought it was most appropriate for me to get to Israel through this Detroit based organization.

What did you take home with you from this trip?
Wow, it’s tough to put into words. The trip was life-changing. I have gained 50 new brothers and sister, nine of whom are my new and forever Israeli mishpacha. I was able to reconnect with my Jewish identity, and in a sense find myself and feel some deeper meaning and connection to Israel. I came home knowing two things for sure: 1) I want to get back to Israel. 2) I want to get better connected to my local Jewish community; to meet more Jews near me and get to know my Jewish community. And I want to give back and do more as a Jewish community member, whether that be here in Colorado and/or with the community back home in Metro Detroit.

Favorite moment?
Shabbat at the Kotel (Western Wall). This moment was beyond powerful, beyond touching. I do not have the words to explain the feeling of being in Jerusalem on Chanukah, at the Kotel on Shabbat. I felt lucky, privileged, happy, proud, so thankful and appreciative to be Jewish and be THERE.

 

Hannah Weiss, 24

Ferndale, MI
Program Associate, Hillel of Metro Detroit

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As someone working with young Jewish adults in Detroit, how do you think a Detroit Community Birthright trip helps people connect to their local community?
The really special part about this trip is that the connections you make in Israel can come home with you. The Detroit Jewish community has so many opportunities to get involved. When you come home from Israel feeling inspired, you come home to a place with people and resources ready and waiting to keep your Birthright journey going, and that’s incredible.

What did you take home with you from this trip?
The Detroit Community Birthright trip was an incredible experience and helped shape my Jewish identity as well as my views on Israel. I never considered myself a Zionist, and was unsure about my connection to Israel, but after going on Birthright, I feel I can better advocate for Israel here in Detroit.

Favorite moment?
My favorite part of the trip was going to the Old City in Jerusalem. It’s so beautiful and so different than any other place I’ve been before. Hearing the stories of the Jewish people in the Old City made me feel a connection to Jerusalem and a feeling of belonging. It was special to be there with our group listening to these stories and feeling this sense of pride for the land.

A few of Hannah’s photos from the trip:

 

Sivan Shatz, 22

Kibbutz Mizra, Israel
Works at the kibbutz elementary school and in a restaurant.

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As an Israeli participant from Detroit’s Partnership Region, how do you think the relationship between our two communities enhanced the trip for everyone?
My relationship with the Partnership started in 8th grade when I got the opportunity to go to Tamarack Camps. I fell in love with the idea of belonging somewhere that isn’t home, of having a place. You could really feel the connection, or as the staff liked to say, “that home-away-from-home kind of feeling.” Whether it was in the personal connections we made with each other, or the day we spent in the Partnership Region as a group, that feeling was definitely there on our Birthright trip. It gave the whole trip a sense of family and brotherhood, and we were already looking forward to August when we will reunite again for our Mifgash in Detroit.

Favorite moment?
One of my favorite moments was experiencing Jerusalem Thursday night with Brendan, Jennifer and Oran, three of our American travel mates. We had free time, and we didn’t really do anything specific, but it was such a cool, beautiful night. The energies and vibes in the streets were so special, it was just enough to have an amazing night.

A few of Sivan’s photos from the trip:

 

Ben Kruman, 26

Huntington Woods, MI
Graduate Student at Wayne State University

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What would you say to someone debating between going on a NEXTGen Detroit Community trip and another Birthright trip?
For me, the decision to go on a NEXTGen Detroit Community trip over another Birthright trip was an easy one. Most Birthright trips offer an opportunity to interact with Israelis for a set period of time during the trip. For the Detroit Community trip, Israelis are a part of your group for the entire journey. This to me was not only a deciding factor, but the best aspect of the trip. To have the opportunity to experience an amazing country and do it with its citizens was an invaluable experience. We quickly came together as a group and now consider one another family. I’m not sure these types of relationships can be fostered in quite the same way on other trips. If you really want to fully experience a country, its people, and its culture, the Detroit Community trip is the way to go.

Favorite moment?
My favorite part of the trip was the Partnership Day. Being able to spend time with the Israelis at their homes and explore their lives in such intimate ways was an invaluable experience.

A few of Ben’s photos from the trip:

Registration for our upcoming trip (May 8 – May 18) is now open here.

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