A GROUP of North Americans pass Ein Avdat in the Negev Desert during last month’s inaugural Taglit-Birthright Israel Extreme Outdoors Tour.
(photo credit: TAGLIT-BIRTHRIGHT)
With almost every kind of environment in such a small area, Israel’s landscape packs a punch.
For many, the chance to experience the Holy Land’s variety of climates and terrains is simply too much to pass up.
Imagine if there was an opportunity to go on an all-expenses paid trip to Israel, with chauffeur and guide service to every site worth seeing.
Would that be something you may be interested in? Well, it just so happens that 40 ultra-adventurous Jews between the ages of 20-26 made the decision to do just that and came last month for 10 days courtesy of Taglit-Birthright’s latest initiative.
The Birthright trips are world-renowned by now, but what made this particular voyage different is that these participants came specifically to hike some of the most famous trails Israel has to offer.
Called the Taglit-Birthright Israel Extreme Outdoors Tour, and self-described as “a chance to experience the country in the most extreme way,” this trip inspired the kind of people such a name would portend, it being extremely demanding, both physically and mentally.
“Attitude is 100 percent the difference between this group and other Birthright groups. These kids are awesome. They volunteer to be extreme. They expect to be extreme,” said former IDF soldier, and one of the group counselors, Aaron Edelman, in a recent interview.
“That is the kind of mentality that these kids are bringing on to the trip. They are tremendously easy going, yet always determined and motivated for more,” Edelman added. “They complain that the hikes aren’t long enough, that they aren’t extreme enough.”
Meeting with the group in Jerusalem’s Old City, all everyone could talk about was how well they got along; how perfectly matched each member of the group was with one another. Rather than wanting to talk about the amazing hikes or cave crawls they had gone on, they just wanted to talk about the experiences they had been having with each other.
“I think they all have a pretty similar outlooks in terms of being adventurous and being up for anything,” said Maytal Firnberg, the trip’s other counselor.
“So when you get a bunch of people like that, they’re automatically going to get along, because they have something in common.”
Among the “extremists” who came were Daniel Joseph Applebaum, 26, who spent five years in the United States Air Force; Kelsey Grodner, 24, who spent three months traveling the world by boat; and Bradley Harris Wertman, 21, who plays rugby for the University of British Columbia and trained Canadian Paralympic Bocce Ball athlete Josh Vander Vies for the 2012 London Paralympics.
From the Golan Heights in the North to the southern Negev Desert, including a hike of the Nahal Arugot National Park trail, the Zavitan National Park trail, and a must-see morning hike up Masada to see the sunrise, these bold, young hikers experienced Israel in a way few others ever will over such a short period of time.
As the trip’s guide, Elad Barllan, explained: “From the airport we went straight to a hike and people were already really getting along. From the beginning our group really got along. We had a great hike in the Golan Heights. We started up in the mountain and ended up all the way at the bottom.”
The Birthright trips are designed to show the beauty and history of Israel to Jewish youth around the world who have never seen the country before. However, to squeeze everything the country has to offer in to 10 days is impossible, which is why Taglit has designed its trips to cater to different desires of the young Jews trying to see the country.
And as everyone on the “extreme” trip loved to stress, it is the attitude of these young men and women, not the physical fitness that most would have assumed, that proved the most common trait.
And while these young adults may have already shared an innate bond, it was 10 days in Israel that enabled them to discover it.