"Carly, you have to go. You just have to go." That's the refrain, echoed at the dinner table or out on a Sunday afternoon. Where does my little sister "just have to go," you ask? On JUF Birthright. After all, our parents met on a kibbutz under a lemon tree, so the family legend goes. For young adults, I am convinced that few experiences compare. It's so important to take advantage of this incredible opportunity while we can.
In addition to being sister extraordinaire, Carly is my favorite travel buddy. The two of us embarked on a whirlwind tour of France a few years ago. I was living there at the time. We hit five cities in 10 days-a fun, exhausting, amazing 10 days we will always remember. Seeing the places I cherished through her eyes was a "Big Sister Hall of Fame" moment for me. I hope she enjoys her JUF Birthright trip as much as I did.
On the surface, it's a free trip to a country with great weather, studded with beautiful beaches. It's a chance to savor new cuisine, flirt with buff and bronzed Israelis, shop Ben Yehuda and get a taste of Israeli nightlife. But that's scratching the surface.
For some, Birthright draws them closer to religion in a way that is both incredibly powerful and tangible in the Holy Land. For many, it's the friendships made with group members and Israeli soldiers.
There are moments that transform Birthright from a great trip to an unforgettable experience. I will never forget the profound emotions I associate with the Kotel, Yad Vashem and Mt. Herzl. Those places are held in my heart, always.
While in Israel, I was lucky enough to connect with my dad's family in Tel Aviv. Sitting with my cousin and her three small sons who speak only Hebrew made me at once feel truly foreign yet very much at home. Even though I don't speak their language, there was a mutual feeling of understanding. Spending time with family members I either had never met or had not seen in decades was both overwhelming and exciting.
Birthright is a great adventure. I've lived in France and traveled all over Europe, yet staying in the Bedouin tents remains one of my most unique experiences abroad. The solitude of the desert evoked a feeling of being alone, together, just the 40 of us sealed off from the world. The chance to discover new cultures, hike new terrain (Masada and the Golan Heights), float in the Dead Sea and Masada all in one 10-day trip is an adventure-seeker's dream.
One of my favorite days of the trip was spent playing with students at school in Kiryat Gat, JUF's Partnership 2gether region in Israel. Getting to know them, simply by playing with them, left an impression on me.
"You just have to go!" I exclaim, because Birthright is not only fun, thought-provoking, full of adventure, full of history-it is a way to connect. To Judaism, to friends, to family, to the land, to the people. I'll be waiting to hear all about my sister's adventure when she returns from Birthright this June.
Ashley Kolpak works as a copywriter and social media manager in Bucktown.