Definitely not! In fact, it’s pretty much the norm for participants on a Birthright Israel trip to not speak Hebrew since everyone is coming to Israel for the first time. If you choose to go on a trip with Jewish Youth Group alumni or with other Modern Orthodox travelers, you’re more likely to find that your travel buddies speak some Hebrew (and others may even be fluent). Don’t let that stop you because having some friends on the trip that speak Hebrew means you have a built in translator when you’re group is off exploring something interesting.
Most Israelis learn to speak English quite well, and many are fluent. You’re almost guaranteed to find that the IDF soldiers that travel with your group speak English fluently and don’t require a word of Hebrew. Most importantly, unless otherwise indicated by the trip organizer, US-based trips are conducted in English for all tours.
If you’re traveling on a specialized trip, such as the entrepreneurship and innovation itinerary that includes stops with local organizations, it’s a bit harder for the trip organizer to control everyone you come into contact with. You might very well be at a tech hub and stop to speak to an entrepreneur in a similar field as your own company and find that she only speaks Hebrew. Again, most Israelis are at least conversational in English, but it’s possible! If that’s the case, use the trip to build even strong bonds as you both struggle with a language that you’re not comfortable with and don’t hesitate to ask your trip guide or even new friends in the IDF to help translate if you get in this scenario! If you are at all concerned, talk to your trip organizer before you go to get a sense of the language used on the trip, especially for the trips with the most interaction with local Israelis and organizations.
Even if you don’t know a single word, a trip to Israel is a great place to start! You’ll be dropping “sababa” (awesome; סבבה) into casual conversation with your chaveirim (friends; חברים) before you know it! For a head start, check out this list of 18 Hebrew words and phrases from Mayanot!
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