I want to go again!
So you’ve used up your free ride to the Jewish state through Taglit-Birthright Israel and you want to go back. Maybe you miss careening down the Jordan River or those warm nights strolling down the Tayelet Haas Promenade in Tel Aviv, or you want to spend more time exploring the Old City in Jerusalem.
Once you start looking for packages, however, it’s not unusual to encounter sticker shock: the average 10-day visit to Israel runs about $3,000, according to Israel’s Tourism Ministry. That cost can leave many young professionals feeling priced out of a return trip.
Fear not. A variety of internships, volunteer opportunities, educational programs and themed trips are among a few fun, inexpensive ways to get back to Israel — or stay behind — after Birthright.
Alternative Spring Break — Jewish National Fund
Spring break isn’t just for college students. Working professionals can recapture spring fever — with a more meaningful element — by devoting a week’s worth of vacation days to volunteering in Israel with Jewish National Fund (JNF). The Alternative Spring Break trip, for 18- to 30-year-olds, is a combination of rigorous physical labor — participants will help with building projects in Israel’s Negev Desert — casual, entertaining nights and an educational component that includes seminars conducted by environmental experts and scholars. Cost: $975 in raised donations for JNF’s Blueprint Negev campaign. email@example.com. jnf.org/springbreak.
IDF Base Option —Volunteers for Israel
Who hasn‘t dreamed of being a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)? You don’t have to commit two years of your life to the army to share this formative experience that nearly all Israelis go through.
This one-, two- or three-week program places you on an IDF base to perform noncombat civilian duties, like packaging supplies, repairing equipment, painting and building, all while living in an army barracks, wearing IDF uniforms and working alongside soldiers. You can attend lectures and cultural events in the evenings and on weekends, or you can choose to play sheshbesh with the soldiers for a really authentic base experience. Cost: $90 application fee, plus round-trip airfare to Israel. firstname.lastname@example.org. vfi-usa.org.
Post-Birthright Study Program — Mayanot
For those scheduled to visit Israel on a Birthright trip, add three more weeks of exploration and learning for a small fee with this extension option. Go from frenetic sightseeing to deep soul searching with Mayanot’s seminars on kabbalah, Jewish history, Talmud, Jewish heritage and other topics. Housed in the heart of Jerusalem, within walking distance of the Old City, the study program is gender-divided and geared toward ages 20 through 29. Cost: $99 (for Birthright participants who extend their trip). email@example.com. mayanotisrael.com/extend.
Organic Farm Volunteer — WWOOF Israel
If your passion for Israel coincides with a passion for sustainable agriculture, an Israeli organic farm may just be your cup of tea. The World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms is an international movement that provides volunteers with an opportunity to work on farms in exchange for food and accommodations. Anyone over 18 can join the group, and you get to choose the length of your stay — minimum five days, up to several weeks or even months — and the kind of farm you are interested in: orchard, medicinal plants, milk sheep, cheese, wine. Cost: $50 (membership fee and required insurance), plus round-trip airfare to Israel. firstname.lastname@example.org. wwoof.org.il.
30Somethings With Livnot — Livnot U’Lehibanot
Being crammed on a bus with the same 40 people for 10 days famously results in romantic couplings, but in case the Birthright trip didn’t produce your beshert, this 10-day excursion is for Jewish singles between the ages of 28 and 42. What better way to assess a potential life partner than while crawling through ancient caves, hiking in the Golan or renovating dilapidated bomb shelters? Cost: $1,450, plus round-trip airfare to Israel. email@example.com. livnot.com/pages/30Somethings/.
Educational Villages —Oranim Israel Volunteer Center
These rural communities built around a school are Israel’s version of the boarding school. You can spend anywhere from one week to six weeks preparing the schools for the coming school year — repairing roofs, gardening, farming or taking care of livestock five days a week. The rest of the time is yours to spend touring Israel. An intensive Hebrew-language course each day will give you the tools to get around, and a weekly lecture about Israel will provide just enough education for the experience to feel well rounded. Cost: $299 per week, plus round-trip airfare to Israel.
israelvolunteercenter.com/summer_programs/educational_villages.AMATEUR PHOTO EXPERIENCE — ORANIM ISRAEL VOLUNTEER CENTER
If you’re lucky enough to get four weeks of vacation from work, snapping your way through Israel is a creative and intimate way to explore the country and its vibrant culture. Photography workshops, Hebrew ulpan, community volunteering and travel excursions are all part of the package, and no prior photography experience is required. Cost: $1,300, plus round-trip airfare to Israel. israelvolunteercenter.com/summer_programs/amateur_photography.