I have been to Israel 4 times prior to UF Birthright and I found that my expectations were more than exceeded. I experienced things I had previously done and saw them in a new light, and I partook in activities I had never done before that showed me a different side of Israel that I didn't know existed. I made life-long friends with kids from my school and kids that are currently enlisted in the IDF.
I literally ate shawarma everyday, not because there weren't other options, but because I had to get my fix while I was there. For me, shawarma is a symbol of Israel. The meat is the groundwork of the state, whether it being the Western Wall or the salty bottom of the Dead Sea. The various cabbages are the people of Israel, because they are as colorful a people as any other (literally and figuratively). The salad is the beautiful vegetation that grows throughout the country from the north to the south.
The chips that aren't necessarily on every pita are the incredible people I met, because you don't meet people like I met on every trip you take. The leaders of my trip: Jared, Cindy, and Reut are really who made my experience. I can honestly say I can't think of my trip without their 3 beautiful faces popping up.
As I said earlier, this was my 4th time to Israel. Watching my friends experience Israel for the first time was incredible. Watching their reactions to the camels was truly one of a kind.
In addition to their new experiences, things I had done prior hit me in new ways. Visiting Har Herzl for my 5th or 6th time actually made me breathless, which had never happened for me prior.
(that's me in the middle pink shirt and sunglasses)
I really believe that this trip hit home for me because of the people I went on it with and I could not thank UF Hillel and Birthright enough for the incredible time I had there.
Every Jewish kid, even if they don't know the story of Hannukah, should go on birthright. It is the trip of a lifetime, and you will establish new connections with others, the State of Israel, and even yourself. I learned so much about myself in my brief time there, so I can only imagine how it impacted everyone else.