I believe it was the summer of 2004 when I went to Israel for free. How you ask? Two words: Birthright Israel.
Birthright offers free trips for Jewish men and women ages 18 – 26. The airfare, hotel, and most meals are included. And the trip is very cool. I went on Taglit, which goes to the Wailing Wall, Negev Desert, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, and many more exotic locations.
Free trip? Israel? There must be a catch such as you come back as a triple amputee! No! The reason it’s free is that the Israeli government uses tax dollars (or Shekels, as it were) to pay for it. And Israel believes that all Jewish people have a birthright to travel to the Holy Land. Although, I think there is also that hope that you will a) return (the economy is tourism-based in part) and/or b) possibly move there one day.
The trip admins definitely spend some time convincing you of the excellence and wonder of the Middle East, in particular Israel. But after visiting it’s clear that the Country is a beautiful, wonderful place albeit troubled by violence and an ongoing crisis.
But what about safety you ask? The trip is 100% safe, and probably the safest way to see Israel, and without spending a Shekel. You ride on a secure tour bus, with an armed guard, the locations of your visit are not disclosed online or even to you, and you avoid the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, the current exchange rate is four Shekels to the Dollar, so you can actually save a little money as prices are already low.
I have included some photos of my journey, but for complete info go to the “Trip” section of Birthright Israel’s website.
The trip will change your life!