Last Thursday, I waved goodbye to many of my birthright friends and watched them load the bus, my pseudo-home for the last 10 days. It was emotional to see them go, but I felt fortunate because my time in Israel had not come to a close. Birthright participants have the option to extend their stay for up to three months! A little less than half of our group decided to stay - either to visit family, go back to certain cities they felt a need to explore more, or just to spend more time with their new friends.
The morning after birthright had officially ended, we all had a weird sense of reclaimed freedom. Birthright was incredible for so many reasons, but you really lose your agency to make personal decisions, and as an adult, it is a strange regression to undergo. All of a sudden we could sleep in as late as we wanted, we could go to the Carmel market for 10 minutes or 2 hours, we could walk to the beach unattended, and go to bathroom without notifying our trip leader. The opportunity to explore Tel Aviv on our own time, felt very special to me. My friend and I walked for hours, with no clear destination and felt truly immersed in the life. I felt like a real local, when Israelis would speak Hebrew to us, of course, they quickly realized we were American when we replied, "slicha, ani lo medaberet ivrit." (pardon the loose transliteration).
Our second day in Tel Aviv, fell on the first day of Passover and we spent part of the day preparing for our group seder. We were assigned to make the charoset! Without a recipe on hand, we went to the open air market and bought the essentials - apples, dates, walnuts, cinnamon, and red wine. We were ready to wing it and it really paid off. That evening, we walked to our friend's airbnb apartment in Jaffa and began our seder. I was so impressed by the commitment of my birthright friends and their effort to make this experience a special one. Our extremely clever friend made brisket without an oven, matzo ball soup without a large pot, and the most delicious Passover dessert - banana fritters. Everyone contributed in their own way, they cooked roasted veggies, bought matzo, wine, and a seder plate. They downloaded a haggadah on their iPhones, and even made Kippas out of napkins! The seder was certainly less traditional, but it felt so fitting for our group. We told the story of Passover, asked the four questions, spoke about the significance of the seder plate, sang every Passover song at least once, and truly enjoyed our last night together. I will hold my memories from that evening very close to my heart. We concluded the evening, not with "next year in Jerusalem" but rather, "this year in Tel Aviv!"