You may have heard us say this before: Birthright Israel is strengthening the Jewish future. But…
Scott Friedman is a Birthright Israel alum of the classic 10-day trip who is one of our most generous alum supporters. On a family trip to Israel with his wife Kara and children, Scott remembered the impact of his Birthright Israel trip and wanted to ensure young Jewish adults today receive the same experience he did. His gift to Birthright Israel Foundation is helping send over 22 participants to Israel — an incredible number. In the article below, Scott shares more on how he benefitted from the journey using Jewish visionaries to contextualize the trip.
My personal experience with Birthright Israel completely opened my mind and broadened my perspective. It was my first time in Israel and my first trip outside of North America. The trip started in the desert, which seemed like an unusual choice for an introduction. My first thought was, “What?! This is what the Israelis started with?” In the desert, wherever I looked, there were virtually no signs of water or life.
Next, we went to the Golan Heights, an area that Israelis occupied after defending themselves from vicious attacks during the Six-Day War of 1967. As I stood there as a young man on top of the Golan Heights, everywhere I looked out, I was reminded that there were potential enemies on all sides prepared to wipe Israel right off of the map. From there, I went on to spend time at schools and universities, and I saw students just like me trying their best to learn, respect others, and make the most of their own future. Next, I visited and stayed within a kibbutz; The purpose of a kibbutz is to create a communal way of life that is based on principles of shared ownership, mutual support, and equality. It was the first time that I experienced such a thing, a completely different way of life that all seemed to work based on trust and mutual respect for the community.
I then traveled to Jerusalem, a city that is considered to be special and significant for many reasons, including its historical, cultural, and religious significance. It is considered holy by three of the world’s major religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. For Jews, Jerusalem is the site of the ancient Temple and the holiest city in Judaism. For Christians, it is the place where Jesus was crucified and resurrected and the site of many important Christian shrines, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. For Muslims, Jerusalem is the third holiest city in Islam after Mecca and Medina and is the site of the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. I saw people of different religions and beliefs living with peace, respect, and unity. I could not believe it. I had just come from the Golan Heights days ago, where enemies almost wiped Israel off of the map, and now I see people operating with peace, respect, and unity.
Lastly, our final stop on the trip was Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is a vibrant and dynamic city that is known for its modernity, cosmopolitan atmosphere, and Mediterranean charm. Tel Aviv is also a hub for innovation and creativity, with a thriving startup ecosystem and a dynamic arts and culture scene. For those that have not been, the city is home to many galleries, museums, and cultural institutions, as well as numerous coworking spaces, tech accelerators, and innovation hubs.
While in Tel Aviv, I learned that one of Intel’s largest research and development centers in Israel is located in Haifa, which is about an hour’s drive north of Tel Aviv. The Haifa facility, known as the Intel Israel Development Center, is the company’s largest R&D center outside of the United States, and is focused on developing advanced technologies for Intel’s products. The Haifa center employs thousands of engineers and scientists and has been responsible for many important innovations in the areas of processor architecture, wireless technologies, and artificial intelligence.
Again, I was completely astonished. Less than a week ago, I was in a desert with no signs of life, no resources, and now I am standing in a place where there are Intel engineers designing some of the most advanced technology on planet earth. Wow! This experience really changed my beliefs on what is possible and reinforced a deep love of science, mathematics, freedom, and innovation.
Overall, it is important to be aware that Israel is a relatively small country both in terms of land area and population when compared to other countries and states. Its land area is approximately 8,600 square miles, which is roughly the size of the U.S. state of New Jersey or the island of Jamaica. In terms of population, Israel has just over 9 million people, which is significantly smaller in population than many other countries around the world.
For comparison, the United States has a land area of over 3.7 million square miles and a population of over 330 million people. China, the world’s most populous country, has a population of over 1.4 billion people. While India, the second most populous country, has a population of over 1.3 billion people.
Despite its small size, Israel has made significant contributions to science, technology, and culture, and has a unique place in history as the birthplace of Judaism and Christianity. Its size and population may be small, but its impact on the world is significant.
Israel has a unique history and cultural heritage that has shaped the contributions of Jewish people to science, math, and psychology. Some of the world’s most famous scientists, mathematicians, and contributors to society have been Jewish, including Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, Abraham Maslow, John von Neumann, Menachem Begin, Elie Wiesel, Saul Bellow and Daniel Kahneman, to name just a few. By highlighting the achievements of Jewish people, despite the enormous challenges and lack of resources compared to other populations, we can better understand the positive impact of their contributions to humanity.
In the spirit of contribution, as I address the forthcoming questions regarding my own unique Birthright Israel experience, I intend to start each answer with a quotation from a distinguished Jewish personality that I admire as a gesture of demonstrating honor, appreciation, and recognition.
Q&A with Scott Friedman
Why do you feel it is important to pay your experience forward?
The famous Jewish psychologist Abraham Maslow once said, “What a man can be, he must be.”
Scott Friedman: “Maslow’s research focused on human motivation and his hierarchy of needs has become a foundational theory in psychology. I believe that paying experiences forward is a way to empower others to achieve their full potential; furthermore, it is essential to pay our experience forward because it allows us to test the limits of our own full potential when we generously help others achieve theirs. When we have the opportunity to positively impact someone else’s life, we feel a sense of purpose and satisfaction that cannot be achieved through self-serving actions alone. By sharing our experiences and knowledge with others, we create a ripple effect of positivity that can continue to spread beyond our own individual efforts. Ultimately, paying experiences forward allows us to create a better world for ourselves and for future generations.”
How do you think the Birthright Israel program impacts today’s young Jewish adults?
Jewish Nobel Prize laureate Daniel Kahneman once said, “We are generally overconfident in our opinions and judgments…and we are better at finding faults in others than in ourselves.”
Scott Friedman: “The Birthright Israel program is a transformative experience that provides young Jewish adults with an opportunity to explore their heritage, build relationships, and gain new perspectives. By exposing young adults to different viewpoints, the program encourages self-reflection and personal growth. Israel is a country that values diversity and the exchange of ideas, making it the perfect destination for young adults looking to broaden their horizons. In addition, the Birthright Israel program has a significant impact on the Jewish community as a whole. By strengthening the connection between young Jewish adults and Israel, the program helps to foster a sense of community and identity. This connection can lead to greater participation in Jewish life and involvement in Jewish causes, both locally and globally. By encouraging young Jewish adults to embrace their cultural heritage and traditions, the Birthright Israel program also helps to combat hate and antisemitism. This can lead to a stronger, more vibrant Jewish community that is better equipped to face the challenges of the future.”
What was your biggest takeaway from the trip? What surprised you the most about Israel/Israelis?
Jewish mathematician John von Neumann once said, “There’s no sense in being precise when you don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
Scott Friedman: “Von Neumann was a pioneer in game theory and made significant contributions to a wide range of fields, including mathematics, physics, and computer science. My biggest takeaway from the Birthright Israel trip was the realization that Israel is a country of contrasts and that its people are resilient and innovative. It is a country with a rich history and culture, but also a modern and innovative nation. What surprised me the most about Israel and Israelis was their resilience and optimism in the face of adversity. Israel has faced many challenges throughout its history, yet its people have managed to thrive and make remarkable contributions to science, technology, and innovation. I believe that the Birthright Israel program encourages dialogue and understanding between different communities, which is essential for building a more peaceful world.”
How has Birthright Israel played a role in your life since coming home from the trip?
Jewish Nobel Prize laureate Menachem Begin once said, “Peace is the beauty of life. It is sunshine. It is the smile of a child, the love of a mother, the joy of a father, the togetherness of a family. It is the advancement of man, the victory of a just cause, the triumph of truth.”
Scott Friedman: “Birthright Israel has played a significant role in my life since coming home from the trip by inspiring me to become more involved in philanthropy, education, and community-building initiatives. Menachem Begin won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in promoting peace and stability in the Middle East, and his quote serves as a reminder that having a positive outlook on life can lead to greater success and happiness. I selected this quote because I believe that the Birthright Israel program encourages young Jewish adults to have a more optimistic outlook on life, to work towards finding common ground, and building a better and more peaceful future for all.”
If you could meet the donor who made your trip possible, what would you say to them?
Jewish Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel once said, “When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity.”
Scott Friedman: “If I could meet the donor who made my trip possible, I would express my sincere gratitude and thank them for giving me the opportunity to have such a transformative experience. In addition, I continue to pay it forward by supporting initiatives that positively impact others. I selected this quote because I believe that the Birthright Israel program encourages young adults to not just learn about their cultural heritage but also to deeply understand and connect with it. Israel is a country that values community, freedom, and generosity, and I am grateful to have been a beneficiary of experiencing this culture.”
Why do you think others should philanthropically support Birthright Israel Foundation?
Physicist Richard Feynman once said, “I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something”, and Nobel Prize winner, Albert Einstein said, “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”
Scott Friedman: “I believe in education, the power of learning by immersing oneself in transformative experiences, and the importance of paying it forward. The Birthright Israel program is one such experience that has the potential to positively impact the lives of young adults and to open their minds to the possibility of a much brighter future. Israel is a country that values education and innovation, as well as peace and mutual understanding, and by investing in Birthright Israel Foundation, we are investing in the future of the Jewish people and their ability to contribute to humanity.”
Why do you believe supporting Birthright Israel Foundation is vital to the Jewish future?
Jewish Nobel Prize laureate Saul Bellow said, “A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.“
Scott Friedman: “This quote means that sometimes people choose to remain ignorant or unaware of certain facts or truths because they have a deep emotional or psychological need to believe in something that simply is not true. In other words, people may use their intelligence to reinforce their illusions or beliefs rather than to seek out the truth. This can happen when people are faced with difficult or unpleasant truths that challenge their worldview or sense of self. Instead, the Birthright Israel program provides young Jewish adults with a unique opportunity to connect with their heritage, culture, and identity. By investing in the Birthright Israel Foundation, we are investing in the future of the Jewish people and ensuring that young Jewish adults have access to a transformative experience that fosters personal growth, builds relationships, inspires philanthropic initiatives, and offers a greater chance of peaceful understanding in the world.”