‘No Limits in Motion’: An Accessible Birthright Trip
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‘No Limits in Motion’: An Accessible Birthright Trip

Like so many Jewish college students, Naomi Hess had an amazing Birthright experience; her trip was designed with accessibility at the forefront.

Naomi Hess and another trip participant. Courtesy of Naomi hess
Naomi Hess and another trip participant. Courtesy of Naomi hess

‘No Limits in Motion’ is a Birthright trip organized by Amazing Israel specifically for young adults with disabilities aged 18-26. This trip promises a completely free and accessible trip to Israel. Each participant gets to bring a companion with them for free, so I brought my former camp counselor. Together with the other six participants and their companions, we had an adventure of a lifetime.

When we landed at 6:00 am, we explored Jaffa, a beautiful port city with 4000 years of history, before finally getting some sleep. The next day, we went on a zipline that was constructed right outside of our hotel just for us! This wasn’t a typical zipline; instead of climbing a ladder and stepping off a platform, the zipline creators buckled us in at the bottom and hoisted us to the top before letting go. At first, I wasn’t sure if I could do it, but the zipline creators used a hammock as a sling for me so that I could participate safely. Later in the day, we visited an olive oil factory and learned about the production process.

On Day 3, we visited beautiful grottos at Rosh Hanikra. We took a cable car down to the caves and saw the stunning Mediterranean Sea up close. Then, we visited the ancient city of Acco to explore tunnels built by the Crusaders. I enjoyed learning about the history of the city and browsing a craft market set up in the tunnels.

On Day 4, we went biking with an adaptive biking organization! I used a hand bike for the first time, which I really enjoyed because it taught me that I was stronger than I thought. I had some assistance from a volunteer, but I was the source of most of the bike’s power. After that, we went to a winery for a tour and tasting. It was interesting to learn about the wine-making process and then taste some of the delicious wine.

The next day, we explored the Old City of Jerusalem. Before our tour began, we got some new additions to the group. Every Birthright trip has a mifgash, or an encounter, between Americans and Israelis. I am so glad that three amazing women currently serving in the Israeli Defense Force decided to join our trip. I had so much fun with them and I’m proud to call them my friends. We went to the Western Wall, where I wrote a note for myself and for my grandma and put them beside each other in a crack in the bricks. It was an emotional experience for me because of the holiness of the site. Then, we ate lunch in the shuk, the busy market that was especially crazy before Shabbat. On Friday night, we had a lovely Kabbalat Shabbat service before having fun at an improv workshop.

The author at the Kotel. Courtesy of Naomi Hess

On Shabbat itself, we had a meaningful discussion about Jewish values. I realized how fortunate Israelis are to not have to actively seek out Judaism; instead, Judaism surrounds them. It gave me a new appreciation for Israel and the importance of a Jewish State that all Jews can call their home. Later in the day, I swam in the beautiful hotel pool with my friends and thought about how lucky I was to be spending Shabbat in Israel. We ended Shabbat with a Havdalah service and then went out for a night on the town. My friends and I shopped on Ben Yehuda Street, a busy hangout spot in downtown Jerusalem, and then we had fun singing along to live music in a bar. 

Day 7 was exciting because it included two of the most famous Israeli sites: Masada and the Dead Sea. Masada is an ancient mountaintop fortress where the Jews who lived there killed themselves in order to avoid being captured and enslaved by the Romans. My favorite part of Masada was the cable car to the top and the gorgeous view of the desert. After that, I really enjoyed floating in the salty water of the Dead Sea

In the morning of Day 8, we went to Yad Veshem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. This museum was incredibly powerful and moving. Later in the day, we went to Mount Herzl Military Cemetery to honor the soldiers who gave their lives to protect Israel. Even though this day was heavy, it is important to learn about Israel’s past.

On Day 9, we explored Tel Aviv. First, I steered a sailboat in the Mediterranean! We went to a busy market for lunch, but first, we had an impromptu dance party with a street singer. Then, we went on a tour of the Birthright Innovation Center, where we learned about Israeli innovation.

We closed out our amazing trip with some bonding sessions that made me realize just how close this group had gotten in just ten days. Some of the best moments on the trip were the unplanned moments, like hilarious dance parties on the bus or impromptu conversations about having a relationship when disabled. There was never a dull moment. I gained a new community of people who truly understand me, and I hope these friendships will last a lifetime. I did not want this trip to end.

The author and other trip participants. Courtesy of Naomi Hess

When I look back at my Birthright experience, I feel proud and lucky. I feel proud because I pushed myself to try new things. I did things that I never thought I could do and I proved to myself that I am capable of more than I realize. But most of all, I feel lucky because I got to participate in this amazing program that has sent hundreds of thousands of Jewish young adults to Israel for free. I feel lucky because I met incredible people from all over the world and I increased my connection to Judaism and Israel. Thank you, Birthright, for the best ten days in Israel.

Naomi Hess is a sophomore at Princeton University.

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