Amanda Flaxman is a winter 2019 Birthright Israel alumna from Highland Park, IL. She currently works as a Data Scientist and the biggest takeaway from her Birthright Israel trip was the authenticity she felt from everyone.

What was the major factor that drove you to sign up for Birthright Israel?

My trip was leaving from Chicago and just happened to be the perfect time for me to go – it worked out effortlessly. I’m 26-years-old and the specific trip I was interested in (Israel with Israelis) was only open to those 22 to 26, and it just so happened I had paid time off (PTO).

What was the biggest take away from your Birthright Israel trip?

Authenticity. I felt like I was able to be myself the entire time, as did everyone on my trip.

What was your favorite part of the experience?

The people I traveled with. The trip itself couldn’t have been planned better, but everyone I was with made it 10x more meaningful. However, if I had to pick one specific moment, it was our group’s first hike together in the North of Israel. The week before it rained, so it made it super muddy. Trying to help each other along a rocky, muddy trail was a bonding experience that helped speed the relationship building along.

Do you see this experience having a long-term impact on your life?

Absolutely! I’m glad that I picked the Chicago trip since many of my new friends are also Chicago-based, and now we see each other all the time! The relationships I’ve made and the things I’ve learned about myself, spiritually, religiously, emotionally and mentally from Birthright Israel have definitely transformed my way of thinking. I’ve let myself be vulnerable and accepting of this change, and I feel that I’m a better person for it.

Highlights from Amanda's trip

Now that you’ve seen Israel first-hand, has your view of Judaism and/or Israel changed?

My view of Judaism hasn’t changed, I’ve always had a good sense of religious identity and know that I want to raise my children Jewish. However, this was my first time in Israel. While I was there, I learned a lot about the culture/language, education/military systems, more about the Middle-Eastern conflict, and everyday mentality of the people.

Did you have the opportunity to ask questions and engage in dialogue?

Yes, both informal discussions and casual settings.

Each Birthright Israel group gets to have Israelis (Mifgash) accompany them on their journey? What did you learn from interacting with Israelis? What do you think they learned from interacting with you?

We had 7 soldiers with us for all 10 days of the trip, so I got to interact with all of them and hear their personal stories. I learned that they age about 10 years in a span of 3 and go through trials of life that I could never fathom. And they’re all around my age! I think from myself and my group they learned about the American mentality, about our government, education, workplace environment, and got a taste of some of our culture.

Did you know it takes 35,000 donors to give this gift to up to 50,000 young Jewish adults across the world? If you could say anything to them what would it be?

To the donors, I’d say that I’m eternally grateful for being able to go somewhere I’ve only ever dreamed of traveling, and I have such sweet and intense memories from my experience.

To the participants and alumni like myself, I’d say that we get our full deposit back, and if you loved your trip as much as I did, you’d give some of it to Birthright Israel Foundation, so you can pay it forward!