I could write novels upon novels about how beneficial Birthright Israel is and how this trip changed my life for the better. Growing up, I really didn’t know much about Judaism or my culture. I am 100% Jewish on both sides, but I was not in touch with my roots. Because I didn’t come from a huge Jewish community, once in Israel, it was like nothing else I had ever experienced before; to be surrounded by all these new Jewish friends from around the states. I never thought I would experience the most amazing journey in the most beautiful place in the world.

Before I went on my trip, in the summer of 2009, I knew nothing about Israel. I was so naïve and could not have told you where she was on the map. I knew Israel was the only Jewish country, but that was about it. Who knew it was the size of New Jersey! I didn’t know about the innovations in med-tech, sci-tech, global humanitarian aid missions, the culture, the music, the food… I could go on and on. I had no idea what a melting pot Israel was as well! Walking the streets of Jerusalem, I was surrounded by endless cultures of people. I became her biggest fan when I learned that she is the only true Democracy in the Middle East. There is no other place in the Middle East where all people—regardless of race, religion, sex, etc.—are protected under the legislature. There is only one country, and that is Israel.

Kate Eppers' Trip in 2009

One of my favorite parts of the trip had to be the day that we climbed Masada and went to the Dead Sea. It was like being on another gorgeous far away planet. Hiking the fortress of Masada in the scorching desert heat is challenging (especially when you take the snake-pit route!) but bathing in the Dead Sea following is the most therapeutic and relaxing experience I’ve ever had!

When it was time to go home, I left Israel feeling proud of my heritage, my people and my ancestry. I am so proud of our people—after thousands of years we have beaten the odds and are still here and thriving. Israel is a beacon of light in the Middle East and to learn of all of Israel’s humanitarian work all over the globe is tremendous. We continue to fight for our lives and our right to self-determination while providing aid and helping to save others in need. Israel is truly a g-d send.

Birthright Israel changed me forever. The trip completely changed my outlook on the world. To truly appreciate who we are as a people is to understand where we came from and what we’ve been through. We are still fighting for the safety and security of our people today. Determination and perseverance of the Jewish people is an unstoppable force. We have our home back and we are home again. I think that it’s imperative for every young Jew to visit Israel with Birthright Israel—the trip takes young people who may have had no or little exposure to their Jewish identity and throws them directly into a whirlwind adventure so rich in culture, heritage, history and friendships. Visiting Israel made me realize how special we are as a people. I went back to visit two more times since my trip and am planning on returning again this year. I will forever be thankful to Birthright Israel for giving me the most precious gift. For making me truly understand how blessed I am to be a Jew.