Devin Dam, like so many young people, listened to his elders talk about the wonders of Israel, and made vague plans to go one day. Then, in March, with help from the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County, everything fell into place. At the age of 24, he got on a Birthright trip to Israel.
In a description of the trip, he wrote: “I had pushed this trip off for some time with all sorts of excuses (‘It’s too dangerous over there,’ ‘I don’t have anyone to go with,’ ‘I don’t have the time to go,’ ‘The flight is to long…,’etc.).” In the end, he told NJ Jewish News, the timing proved perfect.
Birthright Israel provides the gift of first-time educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults.
“I’m glad I went now, rather than with a younger group,” Dam said. “I was with 40 people around my own age, and we were all really into learning as much as we could about the country. We had an amazing time.”
Getting time off wasn’t too much of a problem. Dam, the son of David and Lindy Dam, lives in Little Silver, and works with a waste management company, alongside his father and his uncle. Both of them, he said, were eager for him to do the trip. His grandfather, Alan Winters, the treasurer of the Monmouth federation, was particularly thrilled his grandson was going.
Despite all their enthusiasm, Dam said, he went expecting to see a country battered by hardship and violence. “I suppose it’s just one of those things,” he said. “I automatically associated so many horrible events with it.”
It didn’t take long for those preconceptions to start changing. “From the moment you step off the plane, I could see how different it was,” he said. “There were rolling green hills, orange groves, farms, and fully functioning highways — without any camel traffic.”
The group traveled the length and breadth of the country, reveling in all its marvels, from the Baha’i gardens in Haifa to a Bedouin camp in the Negev, with time, of course, to explore Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
What he enjoyed most, Dam said, was talking to the Israelis and “just listening to whatever they said.” The sense of connection was enormously enhanced half-way through the trip when they were joined by a group of Israeli soldiers, men and women, who traveled with them for the rest of the time. “I wish they could have been with us the whole time,” Dam said.
“Now, I have friends in Israel,” he said. “I want to go back, and when I do, I’ll definitely look them up. And when any of them come here, they know they have friends in this country.” He has also made friends with a whole bunch of Jews who live in the U.S.
Dam pointed out that this is the 10th year of the Birthright program, and that 240,000 young people have participated in it so far. “Birthright is something that I hope continues and I will support for the rest of my life,” he wrote. “If you have someone who is eligible I highly recommend getting them to apply. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!”