“Birthright” is the name for the program that offers free trips to Israel to Jewish college students. It offers trips to students aged 18-32, and the trips are seven to 10 days long. The majority of the trips take place during school breaks, and tend to combine two or three schools’ groups and combine them on a bus.
For my specific trip, I was with seven other OU students, and we were paired with a group from the University of Kansas. I had been planning this trip since May and had been helping Levi Raichik, leader of the trip and rabbi of Chabad at OU, recruit for our bus. It had been months of planning and arranging my winter break schedule to fit the trip in.
The other OU participants and I had spent several weeks talking about our excitement for Birthright, and we had even made a group chat with our soon-to-be friends from Kansas. The excitement was building. Every week that passed meant our trip was getting closer. Everything was perfect, or at least it seemed to be. There were some mishaps, like not getting the chaperone that I wanted, and a momentary potential of Rabbi Levi not leading our trip, but everything had been sorted out in due time. Then, tragedy struck.
Less than a week before we were scheduled to fly out, Birthright contacted us to let us know our trip had been canceled due to the omicron variant. Just two days later, our trip was back on. We would be departing two days later than originally planned. In these two days, emotions were running high. It felt like we were on a roller coaster with the omicron news and watching as Israel’s travel restrictions changed, but we remained hopeful, and the excitement of each participant filled the group chat.
Our celebration and anticipation all came to an excruciating halt, though, when our rescheduled trip was canceled. And with Israel adding the U.S. onto its red list, there was no chance it was going to be re-rescheduled. I entered a phase of heartbreak that I had never felt before: the heartbreak of not going to Israel.
As I sat in this sadness and wallowed in this grief, I couldn't help but feel a little silly. Sure, the Birthright trip is supposed to be the trip of a lifetime, and I had been planning it for months. But there I was, crying in my cozy bed at my parents’ ranch-style house in Pepper Pike, Ohio, because my free trip to a country across the world had been canceled?
I was so incredibly privileged to be spending my winter break sobbing over a canceled trip. My own entitlement got me thinking about my ancestors and their lack thereof. My ancestors — not such distant ancestors, mind you — spent centuries yearning for their return to Israel. My grandparents finally got their chance to end their diaspora when they fled religious persecution in Kurdistan and managed to raise their six children as religious Jews.
They were the first members of their family since 70 CE to return to Israel since the destruction of Jerusalem. Their parents, grandparents and every generation before them for thousands of years yearned to return. And here I was, crying because my free trip, which would be rescheduled for the summer or for any time I wanted, really, was canceled.
On top of this, my trip was truly just a trip. It was not a life-saving mission conducted by the Israeli government like the one that reduced my grandparents. I was supposed to leave my cushy home, go on a subsidized trip and then return. My grandparents scrambled to get their belongings together and were crammed onto an airplane, saying goodbye to the only life they’d ever known after the country they’d been in for generations had become hostile. Compared to them, I was basically living the life of royalty.
Despite all this, I couldn’t help but feel sad. Not only had my months of planning fallen through, but I felt like I had been denied a visit to my homeland. And the never-ending COVID-19 news made me feel like I might never get to go. However, I have until I’m 32, so I think I’ll be OK. I have to remember again how privileged I am to have my trip canceled and still be able to enjoy my break at home and in Cape Charles. My trip was not a life or death matter, unlike my grandparents’ situation. And soon enough I’ll find myself back in Ben Gurion Airport, with the cancelations caused by omicron just a distant memory.
Hadass Galili is a junior studying political science pre-law at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. Do you agree? Tell Hadass by tweeting her at @HadassGalili.