Video: Israel Trips 2022: Ryan Hearst


After graduating from the University of Alabama in May and before starting a finance job with Lockheed Martin this month, Ryan Hearst went on a Birthright trip through his university’s Hillel chapter to Israel. It was the first time the 22-year-old Ladue Horton Watkins High graduate and Congregation B’nai Amoona member had been to Israel, and he was very much looking forward to visiting the Jewish state with friends on the trip.

Hearst was one of several young people who agreed to chronicle his Israel trip by shooting a short video of the sights, sounds, people and places that most impacted him. This Israel video project was made possible due to a generous grant from the Kranzberg Family Foundation. You can view Hearst’s video here.

After he returned from his Israel trip this summer, the Jewish Light spoke to him about some of his impressions and experiences.


What’s the lingering memory of the trip?

Probably the Old City of Jerusalem because of all the history and connections to the Jewish people. The fact that the Old City has been there for 2,000 years. The number of different civilizations that have ruled there over the course of two millenniums. Being there was pretty powerful.


Was there a particular site within the Old City or elsewhere that stood out?

I know it might be cliché but the Western Wall. I think all the different types of Jews being there and praying there. There are so many different types of people from all over the world there to do the same thing. It was amazing.


Did you have a favorite food there?

I loved the food. The chicken shawarma though was the best. I had it every chance I could get.


What about meeting Israelis? Did you make new friends?

We had five Israelis who joined us for the entire trip. We met them the first full day, we picked them up at various locations and they were with our group the whole time, 24-7. They weren’t in an authority role, but there to be with us, like equals to us. I believe three were active (in the Israel Defense Forces) and two had just finished their service. By the end of the trip, we were all really good friends. We still have group chats three months later.

Everywhere we went we would try to speak to the local people. They kind of knew we were with Birthright Taglit and they would asked us where we were from and about our lives. Everywhere we went, it was pretty much like that.


Was there anything that surprised you about the trip?

The variety of cultures and communities that exist within Israel. When we were in Tel Aviv for a few days it felt like New York. In Jerusalem, it hit me that we were in a foreign country. It was really different. It was more religious and more culturally consistent to what I thought Israel would be. Then we went to the Negev Desert and the Bedouin communities there and they would talk about their lives and experiences. So just the variety of cultures that you get everywhere.


Did you feel more connected to your Judaism as a result of the trip?

Yes definitely. I’ve always been connected with Judaism and Israel even before I went there. I did the (Jewish Community Relations Council’s) Student to Student in high school and would present about Israel and be asked if I had ever been there. I’d say no, but they thought I knew so much about it. I read up. I really like to be educated about Israel. Being there definitely connected me a lot more. Actually having your feet on the ground there, it was such an amazing feeling. When I stepped out of Ben Gurion Airport to get onto the bus I looked around and had this feeling of awe, like I’m actually here.


What there anything about the trip disappointing?

That I wasn’t there longer. Leaving was the biggest disappointment.


Do you want to go back and if so, what might you do differently?

Yes, definitely, I want to go back. When I do, I want to get a full day or two or three of touring the Old City.  There is so much there. We had a half-day there and that was not enough time. Birthright was very go go go, very active. I think next time I go back I want a few days to relax on a beach. Eilat is specifically a city I want to go to.