Every summer you can spot them on Israel's
highways and they all have one thing in common – they are all Birthright
(Taglit) program buses. And while the buses are almost identical, each group is different. For example, the group I was fortunate enough to be in charge of was a disabled group, all in wheelchairs.
For them, the difficulties in a trip to Israel are sevenfold and include significant challenges.
Taglit celebrates Israel-Diaspora ties / Sammy Hudes
Birthright co-founder, Charles Bronfman, moved to tears during mega event honoring program which has managed to change dynamics of many communities, in a matter of just one short decade
Many of the groups taking part in the Birthright initiative see a major change in the way they view Israel and the strength of their connection to the State. Some even feel a greater connection to Judaism
and express their wishes to visit again, contribute to the country and even settle in Israel.
The project also caters to special needs groups; recently I acted as guide to one of these groups. For them the trip is a special and in many cases, one-off chance to visit Israel and experience it through a variety of ways as well as meet other young people in situations similar to theirs.
These participants, some of which suffer from severe physical disabilities, are each accompanied by a companion. They tour Israel's handicapped accessible sites like Shofet stream, the Dan nature reserve and Masada and of course, visit sites of special importance to Jewish and Israeli history like the Western Wall, Mount Herzl and Yad Vashem.
One of the highlights of the trip for many of the participants was when the Birthright participants gathered at the National Convention Center in Jerusalem for a night of fun, music, pyrotechnics and performances that had thousands jumping in their seats.
Andrew, 22, from New York said: "Seeing so many Jews from around the world in one place, celebrating in Jerusalem; it was an incredible feeling."
The amount work involved in bringing such a special group to Israel is incredible; each site is examined meticulously. Rooms accessible to handicapped guests are reserved and new activities and itineraries are created to supply participants with a trip suited to their needs.
Each step and stairway which would be nothing to a walking person can be an impossible obstacle to a person in a wheelchair. Thus, bringing these participants to Israel, investing the time and effort to find locations adapted to their needs and the meeting with Israelis serving in the military and contributing to the State in other ways, creates a sense of belonging, to Israel and the Jewish nation.
As a guide who has accompanied Birthright groups since 2005, I enjoy seeing the glow in their eyes when they tour Israel, the feelings of pride and unity that develop over the trip. Each trip I discover interesting people with a thirst for knowledge who seek to learn, listen and contribute to Israeli society and the State of Israel.