By Will Bernick
For ten days, from December 21, 2015 through January 1, 2016, I was part of a trip to Israel, specifically for young adults with autism.
The trip was sponsored by Birthright Israel, an organization that hosts trips to Israel for Jewish youth throughout the world. Birthright has sponsored trips for over 500,000 youth from 66 countries over the years. On my trip, there were 22 young adults with autism from around the United States.
We met at Kennedy airport in New York on the evening of December 21, and took the midnight flight to Israel. When we arrived we said the blessing for renewal, the Shehechiyanu, led by Rabbi Elyse Winick, and checked into our hotel, the Ramat Rachel Hotel in Jeruselum.
Over the next few days we traveled throughout the country: Jeruselum, Jaffa, Tel Aviv. We visited the Independence Museum and the site where David Ben Gurion declared the independence of the State of Israel. We visited the Tel Nof Israeli Air Force Base and walked through the streets of Old Jaffa. Here is a photo of some of our group (I’m the one in the orange shirt).
We drove to the Negev Desert where we learned about Bedouin culture, and rode camels–I thought the one I was riding was going to throw me off. We had lunch in a tent: pita bread, peppers, and rice. We visited Masada and were able to swim (float) in the Dead Sea.
On Friday, December 25, we spent time in the Old City of Jerusalem and visited the Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism (below). As is the custom, I left a note of prayer and thanks in the Wall.
Over the final days, we viewed a light show at the “Tower of David” in Jerusalem, and visited the DeKarina Chocolate Factory and Meshek Hai, the goat farm. We studied for and then visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum.
Though all of us on the trip were adults on the spectrum, autism was not a main topic. We did not define ourselves or our trip in terms of autism. Instead, Birthright provided us with the same trip itinerary and curriculum as used for the many other trips it sponsors each year. This experience is one that I’ll never forget, and I would urge other adults with autism to participate in this trip and others.
In fact in the adult autism group of the Bay Area that I’m part of, AASCEND, one of our members, Paul Nussbaum, is part of an expedition with a team of eight to Greenland next year. The expedition is organized by the autism sports organization Ascendigo, to highlight autistic teamwork and abilities.
This past week Paul he has been part of a preparatory nine-day ski expedition in icy Yellowstone National Park. The team is hauling supplies and gear in the below freezing temperature, as it will be doing in Greenland. Paul is speaking about his Yellowstone trip at our next AASCEND meeting.
So we in the neurodiverse community can be adventurers in different ways.
Will Bernick is a board member of AASCEND, the adult autism group of the San Francisco Bay Area, and co-host of the AASCEND television show, “Life on the Autism Spectrum.”