Although I was overall very happy with the experience of my trip, it wasn’t all cake and ice cream. Therefore, it’s only fair that I include both the amazing and the not so amazing aspects of the journey.
1) We were sometimes treated like high schoolers.
Early curfews. Drinking only at designated outings, areas, and times. Not allowed to cross the street to take photos. Only allowed to pee as a group. These were some of annoying rules of Taglit. The median age of our clan was 23.5. Most of us had already graduated from college and had been working for two or more years. Having every day of our trip outlined with certain rules strictly enforced, sometimes felt like mom and dad were with us. Buzz kill.
2. We were lectured at…a lot.
Some heavy indoctrination occurred, and because of this, I began to tune out. (And also because I was too sleep deprived/ too busy imagining what my next snack would be…)
That said, I thought that our trip leaders and our Israeli tour guide were incredibly open minded in this regard. At no point did I feel as if they were trying to impose their beliefs on us – they merely explained what their personal experiences of Judaism, Israeli culture, society, and history were; however, they never forced their beliefs on us. These were the people whose opinions I ended up valuing the most, not the ones who were telling us to change our belief systems, how to think, or how to move forward post-trip.
3. We didn’t get to explore enough on our own i.e. not enough free time, specifically in Tel Aviv.
Part of seeing and traveling to a new place is being able to explore, get lost, interact with locals, and gain a better feel for your surroundings. Because we were moving around so much, we were given a very good overview, but also a very skewed representation of Israel. The trip caters to a group of individuals who are trying to learn more about their Jewish roots and/ or who just want to be able to travel to Israel for free. You end up doing both things (and more) in the process whether you want to or not. However, I felt like the trip focused more on the meaning of the places instead of just letting us enjoy them.
It was also a shame that we didn’t get as much free time to do more spontaneous, unscheduled things. And there were certainly some things that I feel could have been shorter and/ or removed entirely from the itinerary.
4. We experienced a few racist individuals along the way.
Some people were surprisingly judgmental towards Americans, assuming that most of us were not well traveled, uninformed/ uneducated, and indifferent to the politics of the Middle East; certain speakers/ tour guides vocalized their opinions by making some very snarky, underhanded comments.
I felt most offended while we were visiting Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum. Our South African museum guide was the offender. When he asked how many people have been to the Holocaust memorial before in Washington, D.C. and many of us raised our hands, he said, ‘Oh, that’s surprising – didn’t think it would be so many of you.’ During the tour, he also made negatory, blanket statements about a group of Korean tourists (or those Asians as he referred to them) who were simultaneously visiting the museum as we were. In a place that aims to dissuade prejudice and teach individuals about the horrific nature of discrimination and “group think” mentality, it was shocking and offensive to hear this and other demoralizing comments that he and other individuals made regarding Americans and other nationalities.
5. We weren’t provided as much information about current affairs as we would have liked.
At the very end of the trip, we were given one last presentation with an awesomely funny and highly informative speaker named Neil Lazarus. He gave us an overview and explanation of the Israel-Palestine conflict, answered our questions in simple, straightforward terms, and suggested further resources if we wanted to learn more. One of the boys from our trip raised his hand at the end and said, “I only wish we had had this presentation at the beginning instead of the end.” I agreed with him entirely – having this presentation at the start of our trip would’ve given us a better framework over other historically, politically, and culturally significant places that we saw in Israel. (And I probably would have forced myself to pay attention a little better…)