Israeli Soldiers on Birthright

Relationships built between Israeli soldiers and American Jews (mifgash in Hebrew) is one of the most important parts of any Birthright trip. Between 5-8 soldiers tag along each Birthright group. They are not in uniform for the most part, and it is considered a sort of cultural exchange. Some 50,000 Israeli soldiers have accompanied Birthright trips since the start of Taglit in 1999.

All of our soldiers outside of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem

 Our only female soldier, Sapir, was such a role model as both a beautiful AND badass woman!

 Our soldiers knew how to have a good time

I asked some of my Israeli soldier friends why they think soldiers go on Birthright and here is how they responded:

Response 1: Well, sending soldiers have couple of goals, but they all derive from one common idea - to socialize the participants of birth-right within the Jewish-Israeli population. To make you feel more and more connected to this part of your identity. Having soldiers with you have many effects: You have someone (which represents Israel) you can (individually) understand and sympathize with. You can ask personal questions and have better understanding of Israel and Zionism and all that. And, sometimes, believe it or not, the explanations in birth-right are not very accurate and/or detailed - you can ask more informative questions. lastly, soldiers are an example of someone who lives in Israel and dedicates years from their lives to the Zionist idea, they serve somewhat as "personal example". 

Response 2: I believe the purpose of sending soldiers to the trip is to contribute a more closer and personal aspect of Israel to the students who come on Birthright.You can study and hear lectures about Israel, the IDF and important iconic places but the most genuine experience would be to hear it first place from the people who live and experience Israel everyday and on top of that, the soldiers are basically at the same age as the students, that makes 2 different realities collide.

What's in it for the soldiers?
  • Cultural experience
  • Free trip around their own country
  • Reward for serving their mandatory time in the military
  • Getting to be a carefree youth, having fun
  • Making American friends
  • Realizing they have support in other places, not just Israel
  • Shows them they are fighting for not just the country of Israel, but Jews everywhere
  • Matchmaking?
I say matchmaking because to a young American Jew, there is something romantic about the idea of an Israeli soldier. Of course Birthright wants us to fall in love with an Israeli and never leave, although they wouldn't explicitly admit that. There is a long running joke among Birthright groups that if you fall in love on the trip, Birthright will pay for your honeymoon in Israel.

As someone who experienced an Israel crush, I ran home and immediately started researching Birthright romances online to see if it had been some scripted, typical experience. Giving me a token to keep, showing up at the airport to say goodbye, was any of it genuine? I don't regret anything, because I think I did meet a like-minded individual who I will always have fond memories of, and will hopefully keep in touch with. My favorite article I came across, crude as it may be, had some parts that really stood out to me:
From's 'Through the Eyes of An All American-Slut', June 4, 2012.
"They know what they want… Smooth talkers. My soldier wrote me a love letter in the first 24 hours, ‘you are amazing and interesting woman.’ They don’t mince words.
More generally speaking, they are ‘do-ers’. Proactive, active. Our boys pick up remote controls and Wii, they give these boys guns. My soldier would be counting heads or building a fire, he took the initiative. How could I pay the all-American boy sleeping next to me in the Bedouin tents any mind? If we’re comparing apples and oranges, one was comatose on Xanex while the other stood at Mount Herzl recounting a memory from the line of fire. …
They give you presents! Their pin, their tee shirt, and if you’re really lucky, their cap (yes, I received a hat). They offer you something to remember them by. Forever. A keepsake. I know I cherish my mementos as some of my most prized possessions. Of course, I am romanticizing the whole experience to preserve my dignity. It is all part of the fantasy, the illusion, the magic of the mystical place."

I thought our soldiers would be a group of aggressively flirtatious guys in uniform, there to meet cute American girls and sleep around. Not the case at all. Our soldiers were very respectful, informative, but still lighthearted and fun. They take their uniform very seriously. When I asked one of the soldiers to take a photo with me making a funny face I had seen him do earlier, he told me would have to take the photo later when he was not in uniform!

I won't be forgetting the time I spent with Amir any time soon

One of our soldiers, Dor, in the military cemetery on Mount Herzl 

Dor in plainclothes, and Max, a fellow Birthrighter
Right now there is mandatory military service in Israel for men and women between the ages of 18-21, so the way I see it, they lose out on that time in their life when their American counterparts are off at college, experimenting with love, alcohol, academia, freedom, drugs, sex, shitty jobs, and partying. It was nice to see them kick back and relax on the trip, and just have a ton of fun. The military requirement could also explain why you see so many Israelis going bonkers in hostels around the world. Cabin-fever-ridden party animals!

Our soldiers goofing around with some Birthrighters

There is some conflict right now in Israel over exemptions from the mandatory military service. If this is at all interesting to you, here are some articles I found that sum it up:
Huffington Post Article

I'm going to end this ridiculously long blog post with some more responses from my soldier friends. I asked them what the best part of the trip was, and if they would have changed anything. Here is what the Israeli soldiers had to say:

As far as I can see, I wouldn't have changed anything in this trip. It was a pure awesome experience for anyone who was involved and I truly believe everyone have enjoyed every second of it and would've gladly do it again at anytime.

The best part, as a whole, were you guys. All of you laid down you guards, your wall, your defenses, and just became part of the experience. You weren't passive bystanders. You "got lost" in this trip. I think each and everyone in this trip, at least once, had a serious "What-If" thought. What if I were lived in Israel. What if I moved to Israel. I know it isn't feasible to many. But it did cross your minds.


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