Category Archives: Travel

Finding light in dark places: reflections on the March of the Living

“I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”  ~Anne Frank 

It has been over a week since I returned from a whirlwind trip through Poland and Israel, otherwise known as the March of the Living.  Almost immediately upon my return I sat down to write this blog post, but found it simply too difficult.  Anything I could possibly write, any stories I could recount, seemed to simply fail in comparison to the experience I had on the trip, my first time in Poland.  Now a week later, after sharing stories with family and friends, I realize there is one piece of the trip that stands out in my mind; not a specific anecdote or a site we visited, but an incredible life lesson I learned while traveling through Poland with 217 other Jews from Montreal.

March of the Living Montreal in Poland – photo courtesy of PBL Photography

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My favourite Birthright Israel moment…the true meaning of paying it forward

This post was written by guest blogger, Stephanie Rishikof, who was a Taglit-Birthright Israel participant in 2007.
In July 2007, I went on Birthright Israel and had an incredible experience, as any alumni can attest to. Recently, I was asked by Team BIEC what the highlight of my trip was. Six years ago, I would probably have said floating in the Dead Sea, riding a camel, rafting on the Jordan River, or the Mega Event. Years later, the highlight of my trip has changed.
Steph and fellow Birthright Israel participants rafting on the Jordan River

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Are you “Chai” on Israel?

Ever get a card on a simcha (a happy occasion like Bar/Bat Mitzvah or wedding) with a check in it for say, 144$ (a multiple of 18)? Or ever plant a tree with JNF for 18$? As Passover is right around the corner, did you know 18 minutes is the maximum time matzah is to be cooked until it becomes unkosher? Without too much detail, once the dough hits 18 minutes, it begins to rise. 18 is also the date in the Hebrew month of Iyar when Lag B’omer occurs. We get this number 18 from the numerical value of the Hebrew word for life, “חי” or “Chai.”  The ח or “chet” is the 8th letter in the Hebrew alphabet and is worth 8 and the “י” or “yud” is the 10th letter and is worth 10, hence the connection between Judaism, life and the number 18.

Team BIEC’s favourite Birthright moments revisited

In honour of Birthright summer registration, which opens tomorrow, February 15th at 10:00am, Team BIEC has come together to share with you our favourite Birthright memories.  Each Birthright trip, whether you are a participant or a madrich, is special in its own, unique way, but there are always those moments that stand out as the most memorable.  Some of the moments are funny ones, others are meaningful, but what they all have in common is that they happened in Israel, on the trip of a lifetime.  If you haven’t yet taken advantage of this amazing gift, I encourage you to register for your free summer trip tomorrow!  If you have already been on Birthright, we’d love to hear all about your favourite Birthright moment!  And be sure to pass the word on to your friends and family about this incredible and unforgettable opportunity, so that they too can experience their own special moments!

The Birthright Bear is back!!!

Hello What The BIEC readers!!!

We wanted to take this opportunity to let you all know that Birthright registration for summer trips opens FEBRUARY 15TH AT 10AM!!!  Don’t miss your chance at a FREE trip to Israel this summer!!!   And check out our amazing videos on Facebook (B-right Bear) to follow the Birthright Bear on his quest to get every Jewish Montrealer between the ages of 18-26 to Israel…for free!

Visit to register!!!

Check out the first two videos below!

The Birthright Bear is back in town!

Birthright Bear is back in town! from BIEC Montreal on Vimeo.

The Birthright Bear in the car…

Birthright Bear: the car from BIEC Montreal on Vimeo.

Moving to Israel vs. Making Aliyah

Ever since I came back from Israel as a Birthright participant two years ago I began asking myself, could I live in Israel? After diving deeper into Israeli culture and history, Zionism, and getting involved in the Jewish community, the question of whether or not I could live in Israel became so much more; it became a final destination, “sof haderech”. I’m not going to go over logistics and the ins and outs of making Aliyah, but rather explain to you the importance of having a “plan” in doing so, and the difference between moving to Israel versus making Aliyah.

For me, the past few years have been about getting back to Israel at any cost, at any moment, or for any reason… but the question is, why?  Is it just for pleasure or leisure? Obviously, Israel is a great place to have fun and trips there often result in life-changing experiences, but it never dawned on me that I could have “Israel changing experiences.”

One of the readings that I came across through my research and interest in making Aliyah was that of “how can I make a difference in Israel.” After taking part of Hagshama’s Young Zionist Leadership conference last weekend in Miami, I was blessed to hear North American Shaliach of Aliyah, Barry Spielman talk about making a plan of action for when one does make Aliyah. He asked the question, “what are you going to do when you make Aliyah?” I responded with, “Well I’m going to live here and study this.” He answered by asking something along the lines of, “ok…and how are you going to contribute?”

WOAH, wait a second, LIGHT BULB!

I finally got it. If you’re thinking about making Aliyah, tell yourself, I’m going to make Aliyah.  I’m not just going to move to Israel, I’m going to do something to better Israel for Israelis, for my children and for the Jewish people.

One of the great things about making Aliyah is that there are so many possibilities of ways to contribute to bettering Israel. You can choose from helping to populate the Negev, volunteering in a number of different communities, serving in the IDF or lending your expertise to help with Israel’s water issues. If you have a plan, life in Israel will be rewarding and action-filled…you will be living and not simply existing. If you are planning on making Aliyah, I challenge you to find your niche and start your personal and national growth.

“Aliyah is a call to the individual to arise, to assume a dramatic role in history, to participate in nation building.” ~McGill’s own Rabbi David Hartman.

Inspired? Interested in Aliyah? Want to talk about how you can make a difference once you are Home? Drop me a line anytime!

The Essence of Time

Within the first 60 seconds, I felt I had made the biggest mistake of my life and I was desperately trying to figure out how I was going to get out of this. 

The concept of the IDF had always been such an incredibly large one that I couldn’t wrap my head around and I was curious to try and find out for myself what it is all about.  Now, by no means am going to pretend that I joined the IDF and completed the two or three years of service that Israeli’s are required to do however, I did something that was so far out of my comfort zone that I considered to be the next best thing, Marva.

Marva is a program for non-Israeli citizens to experience the first two months of basic IDF training.  It’s a program designed to allow people from the Diaspora to experience the physical and emotional challenges of the country and its people.  Each week was spent focusing on a different topic, with different related activities.  Through hiking the land and learning its history, navigating through the desert, living in field conditions, and meeting various soldiers and learning from their experience, I got a glimpse into the everyday life of a soldier.    

The Marva Base

At the same time that Montrealers go through the stages of deciding what they are going to wear to grad or what they are going to do for the summer, Israelis are deciding which unit they will serve in, and while we wait for our acceptances into CEGEP, they wait for their IDF draft date.   

When I got off the bus in Sde Boker, the commanders began to shout out instructions in Hebrew (which I didn’t understand) and my only choice was to follow the crowd.  The Mefakdim (commanders) began to ramble on about something that I figured was important but being completely overwhelmed, I tuned out and my mind wandered off.  I was thinking of contingency plans for the summer; I was certain there was no way I was making it past the first day.  Little did I know, this “rambling” was in fact directives specifically for the girls.  In translation they were saying, “remove your sunglasses, take off your nail polish, tie your hair back with only a black elastic, get your uniforms and you have exactly 7 minutes to do this.” Were they nuts?!!  I can barely see in daylight without my sunglasses, where was I going to find nail polish remover in seven minutes, my only elastic which was on my wrist was purple and more importantly how long would it be till I was able to get out of there?! Two months later, I graduated Marva K”T with a sense of accomplishment and pride greater than I had ever expected. 

After spending the first week of the course trying to figure out how I was going to tell my parents that I wanted to come home and they were right for telling me that this was a stupid idea, I quickly realized that leaving was not an option.  Something had clicked.  I am not sure how, or why for that matter, but I am so incredibly grateful that it did.  If Israelis can do this for two or three years, I can do this for two months… or at least try!

The truth is, when I look back at my eight weeks pretending to be a soldier, I realize that the activities were not that difficult (with the exception of climbing Masada the ‘army’ route where I thought I would literally never make it up until my greatest support turned to me and joked “we never leave a man behind” and helped me every step of the way), it was the difficulty of being so far removed from what I had always known.  It was my surroundings, my comfort, and my emotions that were all new and challenging.  It became a mind game.  I had a choice; I could quit at every moment I felt the urge to (which was arguably every 10 minutes) and never know what I missed, or I could put the saying “mind over matter” into action and finish the program which is exactly what I did.

Climbing Masada

“No,” “I don’t want to,” and “I can’t do this” became foreign concepts to me and the idea of team work, support, and determination developed entirely new meanings.  I spent four days in the field sleeping in a tent (and by tent I mean, the desert sand with just two flaps over me).  The running became easier, my cot began to feel as if it was a king size bed with a duvet and I learned to eat tuna for breakfast, lunch, and dinner…and love it.  I developed the skills of being able to navigate with topography maps through the desert, and I learned to love using my M-16 as a pillow.  I learned to push myself more than I ever thought possible and I learned to truly appreciate the concept of time and the concept of togetherness (a word they often used in Hebrew- beyachad). 

Field Week

When I marched at my graduation ceremony, I felt an overwhelming amount of emotions.  I felt such a sense of accomplishment and also felt so empowered that I had developed skills that I would have never otherwise had the opportunity to develop.    

I have always had an incredible amount of respect for Israeli soldiers and the sacrifice that they make by giving two or three years of their life to defend their country, but after going through just the basic training, the amount of respect grew to a whole new level.  Every time I lead a Birthright trip and develop relationships with soldiers I am reminded of my short army experience and I remember how important it is to recognize the sacrifices they make.  These young adults who spend critical years serving our country value us in the Diaspora and appreciate any commitment we make to them and to Israel, as a whole.  For those of you who haven’t yet had the privilege of meeting soldiers, I encourage you to make the effort to do so next time you are in Israel.  For those of you who have, I encourage you to take the time to contact them, just say hello and send regards, I promise they will be happy to hear from you because as much as we can learn from them, they in turn can learn from you!

Marva Graduation Ceremony

BIECAmanda’s Top 5

As I search for inspiration to blast via our blog to the world, I stumbled upon a sportswriter’s top 5 and I thought, man, that’s a really good idea!

So I borrowed it. I picked the top 5 things that I love and I will list my top 5 of that topic.

So here we go, one at a time…

Number 5: Spring time shred. I have been snowboarding for about 6 years and I’ve been getting more and more excited for it every year. Last year was a big riding adventure; I ploughed 3 new-to-me mountains and loved them! There’s nothing like riding down a brand new mountain and getting lost in the trails.

So, with the ski season ready to go, I thought a great way to kick off my Top 5 would be to help you discover some new mountains yourself!


#5. Sutton – out east in Quebec, a great mountain to play on, which isn’t too far from home.


#4. Mont Ste-Anne – in Quebec, not as easily accessible than some others on the list, however, it is absolutely one of my favourite places to shred and relax.


#3. Bromont – another great mountain in the Eastern Townships and one of the fewer larger mountains that allow for night skiing! Very easily accessible and tons of different trails for all levels of difficulties.


#2. Tremblant – Laurentians. You can debate my top 2 mountains back and forth, but the truth of the matter is that they are both number 1’s in their services. Tremblant is a busy resort village, so for those who love crowds of buzzing people sweating it out on the mountain and hitting the numerous bars in the village, Trembs is the way to go!


#1. Jay Peak – Vermont. My all-time favourite! The difference between Jay and Trembs is that, at the base of Jay, there is one general meeting area, the chalet! It isn’t in a village where everyone can disperse. You sit down on an Adirondack chair, grab a beer, listen to some live music or enjoy the BBQ. This is the place I get the best chilling vibe from after a hardcore day on the slopes.  And I cannot wait to go back.

Dear Snow,

I appreciate your desire to please everyone and your efforts in melting over the past week, but we’re ready for you to come back now!


The Snowboarders and Skiers of Montreal

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