This past 10 days I went to Israel, Eretz Yisrael, on a Birthright trip. It was a very unusual trip because it was not originally designed to be accessible. Basically, Taglit-Birthright, the organization that sponsors these free trips does offer an accessible trip. However, according to multiple representatives I spoke to told me that these trips are primarily designed for people with intellectual disabilities and probably wouldn’t be fun for me as someone who does not have an intellectual disability. I was denied by 3 different trips before the trip I went on this month.
My school offers a trip on birthright but last year I was told that I could not go because it wasn’t accessible. I kind of gave up on being able to go on birthright. This past September a staff member at our Hillel asked me if I was going and I told her this whole story and she told me that she would talk to the people at our trip provider, Israel Outdoors, and see if something could be worked out. I had ALOT of doubt that they could actually do anything for me, but I got to give it to Israel Outdoors and especially Nate for going above and beyond for me. In November, our staff member surprised me by telling me that YES I was going on the trip. I was so happy, I immediately called my mom.
This trip is designed as the name implies, to be outdoors. Our schedule was full of hikes and walking, which doesnt seem accessible. They asked me way too many questions about my health and my GP had to send a letter which said I was healthy enough for the trip, which even now I think was questionable as I almost fainted a bunch and threw up every single day of the trip. They tried to pick hotels that were accessible but I still had to bring my shower chair because apparently no hotels in israel offer one.
Now that I’ve told you the backstory, lets get on to the trip itself. I am going to take it day by day, and there were basically 9 days of the trip.
Day 1- The first day had SO MUCH hiking. The first hike that everyone did, we waited on the side of the road and looked at cows. However, there was no sidewalk so it was kind of bumpy. But overall, it wasn’t horrible. One of the things I hated the most about when there were hikes is that I got separated from the rest of the group. I felt like I was missing out on so much that was happening. The second thing we did was we went to the Syrian border and that was fine. It was alot of uphill but it did have a sidewalk and I was able to be with the group and see everything we were talking about. On a side note, this was one of the highlights of the trip. It was so beautiful and we talked about the Syrian conflict and the hard choices to be made there. After that we went to a hot spring and it was accessible they had a lift to get into the pool and everything. Then we went back to the hotel, which had weird wall in the middle of the shower, but EVERY hotel we stayed at in Israel did have grab bars in the shower so thats cool.
Day 2- We went to sfadt which is an ancient city, like over 2000 years old. Most of the streets are paved with whats called Jerusalem stone and this whole thing makes it extremely inaccessible. There are stairs EVERYWHERE and much of the time there was spent having my lovely staff (SHOUT OUT TO MALLORY, SARAH AND ELLIOT YOU GUYS ARE THE BEST) carry me and help me up and down. It was really hard also because the streets are so narrow. We did make it though and I was super happy about that because sfadt is beautiful and well worth it. We saw so many mystic sights and learned about Kabbalah (which I took a class on in high school) and art and ancient ideas. We got to interact with real people and we met IDF soldiers who would become our friends for the next few days.
Day 3- We went to Jerusalem and the Kotel, this is also literally “The OLD City” and is paved with, you guessed it, Jerusalem stone. Not only this, but it was raining and hailing, and the stones became super slippery. The city also has so many stairs, especially going down to the Kotel (Western Wall) one of the most sacred sites in Judaism. This makes absolutely no sense because people with disabilities and elderly people want to flock to this site but there is almost no way for them to do it without ALOT of help. I felt so lucky to have this experience and to be able to pray at the wall. When we were done we did have to take a cab ride back to the place where we met the bus. Speaking of the bus, our bus driver, Yossi was awesome and helped out alot with my chair and getting me on and off the bus. He was also a hilarious human being who liked to play loud 90s power ballads. From there we also went to a mall, which is just like a mall in the US, and a party which was at a club, which was also accessible.
Day 4 was spent only at the Kibbutz where we were staying as it was Shabbat. The kibbutz was accessible and the staff were very friendly.
Day 5- We went to Har Hertzel and Yad Vashem. Two similar places in meaning but completely different in terms of accessibility. Har Hertzel is the military cemetery and also where political leaders are buried. Because service is mandatory in Israel, there are a large number of people buried there. This being said, it is completely inaccessible. There are NO ramps and stairs everywhere. My friends Matt and Yoni (shout out to them) had to give me piggy back rides to be able to get where we were going. That was in the NEW part of the cemetery and I guess they never took into account accessibility. Yad Vashem on the other hand, is a modern building and the holocaust memorial museum. It was very accessible and I had no problems.
Day 6- We climbed Masada which is a mountain in Israel that is famous for its ancient history. Getting up and down is fine because they have a gondola but in order to get there you have to drive an hour around the mountain. The top is super accessible, there are signs everywhere. Then we went to the dead sea, also super accessible, they have a boardwalk that leads right into the water. Its fine. That night we went to Eilat and it had steps into every single bar and restaurant which was super annoying, but again im lucky to have such great friends.
Day 7- There was another hike and we literally stayed in the bus the entire time because there was nothing to see and nowhere to go. The other thing we did that day was go to the read sea which was super annoying. There was sand everywhere and the sea was so rocky that I couldn’t get in because I would fall flat on my ass. That night we slept in the bedouin tents which was really cool and accessible.
Day 8- We rode Camels which you can get on if you are in a chair but there is no support so I wouldn’t exactly call it adaptive. I almost fell alot and it jacked up my back. They told me not to do it because it wasn’t physically recommended but i’m a daredevil so I did it anyway. Then there was another hike, but I actually halfway went on it and it was so much fun. It was super not accessible and my lovely staff people Sarah and Mallory were great and give me piggy back rides. Then we went to sde boker, the home of Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel and that was fine. After that we went to a farm and that was super annoying because everything was dirt that you cant roll through. We had a night out in Tel-Aviv and most people went to a club which I would have liked to go to but there were so many stairs!!! So no. But the city itself was very accessible.
Day 9- Our last day in Israel! We were in Tel Aviv which was really accessible and super fine. Then we were in Yaffo which is another ancient city and had alot of stairs. That was it!!!
3 take aways from this trip.
- I am the luckiest person in the world to have such amazing friends and staff who will go above and beyond to make sure I can go where ever I want to go and have as much fun as possible. Im sure they’d tell you that I’m a really great person and its easy but It’s really on them. I LOVE YOU GUYS!!!!!!
- Israel has NO ADA type law and thats really discouraging and something I want to work on activism wise especially if I get into school and spend next year in Israel. Its unacceptable in this day and age I am really upset about it.
- This is all really summed up by what a flight attendant said to me on the way back from Israel: “I’m really sorry Israel Isnt the most accessible. We’re working on it I promise, but we’re a relatively new country and its hard to make those changes when many of the places are so old. You would think that with so many disabled veterans in Israel they would do a better job, but they are working on it. My son was on crutches for 6 months once and he couldn’t even go to school because his school didn’t have an elevator.”