This winter, Taglit-Birthright trip participants left Israel with a little something extra.
In a joint venture between Birthright and Nextbook, these Israel first-timers are receiving a new book, “Traveling Companion,” a colorful hardback filled with history lessons, personal essays and travel guides — written and edited by Wayne Hoffman, the managing director of special projects at Tablet Magazine. For Hoffman, who worked closely with Barry Chazan from Birthright and Len Small at Nextbook, the goal was to include a sampling of places typically visited on Birthright trips as well as supplemental sites that might pique interests on future visits, and of essays and short literary pieces from Israeli authors.
“I don’t think any other book offers such a broad introduction to Israeli literature in such a compact space — all the while tying it directly to things that the readers have seen with their own eyes,” Hoffman said. (Not surprisingly, a number of the authors represented have Nextbook connections.)
The project was funded entirely by Birthright, and over 10,000 copies have been printed thus far, according to Ada Spitzer, Taglit-Birthright Israel’s vice president for marketing.
“The idea is that it will become part of our permanent educational material,” she said. Spitzer would not provide a figure about how much money Birthright has invested in this project.
Hoffman went along on a Birthright trip last winter to get a taste of the participants’ experiences. Rather than providing logistical data like hotel names or restaurants, Hoffman focused on making the book an interactive tool for use during the trip.
“The traveling companion is intended to give people a bit of context to understand what they’re seeing, and to help them remember what they saw,” Hoffman said. “I figure that people are ready to learn a bit about Masada when they’re actually at Masada.”
While traveling, participants have ample space to jot down notes from their travels, as well as contact information of their new acquaintances.
Others who have worked closely with Taglit argue that participants could certainly benefit from having the book prior to their departures.
“It’s a great idea because most people who come on our Birthright trips don’t seem to do a lot of prep work,” said David Abitbol, from Jewlicious.com, who has led eight Birthright trips. “This is an attractive, digestible book that gives them an idea of what they’re going to see in Israel, but I really think they would benefit from getting it a month before they leave.”