Traveling in style

A recent Taglit-Birthright trip for fashion students was tailored to their needs.

Taglit birthright fashion 521 (photo credit: Courtesy of Taglit-Birthright)
Taglit birthright fashion 521
(photo credit: Courtesy of Taglit-Birthright)
Crowded around their worktables at Studio 6B in Tel Aviv, it was difficult to differentiate between natives and visitors. The 40 participants of Taglit-Birthright’s newest program were so deeply entrenched in their task that they decided to forgo lunch breaks, bathroom breaks and really anything that would distract them.
In what looked like a scene out of Project Runway, the groups played with bits of fabric, feathers, chains and jewels. Each team was bent on designing the ultimate head-covering, a task they had been assigned at the onset of their 10-day adventure throughout the country.
The following night, each team would present its finished product to a panel of local designers and industry people.
For Taglit-Birthright, this program – known as Fashion Israel – was a risk. There were no guarantees that it would attract enough interest from abroad or that the spark would ignite a larger initiative.
Working on gut instinct alone, Taglit-Birthright, along with Hillel, decided to give the format a try. They arranged for tours of textile facilities around the country, came up with a mission that would carry throughout the program and hired a specialized tour guide to lead the troop.
S t a n d i n g around the busy hive of fashion bees, all parties involved in planning this adventure were nearly in tears with excitement.
“This was a dream of mine, one of those ideas you have that come from nowhere, and now look at them,” said Esther Abramowitz, Hillel’s director of student life in Israel.
What the program strived to provide was a keyhole glimpse of the country, one that would allow the newcomers an easy-access point to understand Israel. As it turns out, there is an overwhelming number of fashion and design students interested in discovering it.
“I had a lot of friends who had done Birthright before,” said Caroline Delson, 21, a student of fashion design at Cornell University.
“I am really glad to have gotten to do this specialized trip. We’ve been all the way north and all the way south so far. This was the first time I’ve ever been in the desert, and it was so eye-opening.”
Delson was amazed by the blend of traditional and modern garments in the country. A fan of weaving and embroidery, her personal highlight was at the Arab village of Lakiya, where she was treated to an up-close view of a traditional loom.
Unlike on most other trips, the Israelis joining Fashion Israel were present for the entirety of the journey. While most Taglit trips host a handful of IDF soldiers, the locals who participated in Fashion Israel – hand-selected by their teachers at either the Neri Bloomfeld School of Design and Education in Haifa or Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Ramat Gan, where they study design and fashion – found that they had a great deal in common with their American peers.
For their projects, each of the 10 Israelis was placed in a group with three Americans.
“When they asked me to come, I was worried about who the other participants would be,” said Noam Levinson, 26, who had taken time off from her intensive studies at Shenkar to take part in this fashion experiment.
“It’s a great group. They are talented and interesting people. I made connections both personally and professionally,” she said.
For 21-year-old Melissa Rothbaum, this trip put the first stamp on her passport.
“I grew up celebrating Christmas and Hanukka – I have one Jewish parent and one non-Jewish parent. I am the first person in my family to visit Israel, and it’s been so amazing,” she said. “The next time I come back, I’m bringing my father so that he can experience the country with me.”
For the Israelis, this trip presented an opportunity to see new parts of the country through the eyes of a tourist.
“Yesterday was my birthday,” said Shaul Fadida, a 29-year-old student at Bloomfeld. “We started the day at 4 a.m. at Masada. I had never been there before. It was really special for me to share my birthday with this group and to celebrate with them. I’ve gotten to see places I’ve never been.”
“Even coming to Tel Aviv is different now,” added Levinson, “because I am seeing the city after seeing the rest of the country.”
Since Taglit-Birthright’s inception over 10 years ago, the program has come to include a wide variety of initiators who offer niche trips similar to this one. At present, the organization offers programs geared toward baseball fans, LGBTQ youth, hikers, culinary professionals and technology junkies. In addition, there is an ever-growing special needs division. Each niche trip provides a tailored experience of the country.
From the buzz in the room at Studio 6B and the inspired expressions on the participants’ faces, it was clear that the Fashion Israel initiative was a raving success.