It has always been my dream to visit Israel. And when my parents decided they would not hold my two younger sisters’ B’not Mitzvah in Israel, I knew I had to find another way. Birthright Israel was the way I fulfilled that promise.
Early on in the trip, our group toured the Golan Heights. Instantly my college studies on history connected me tangibly to the journey as we learned about the ancient Jewish ruins from thousands of years ago. Later celebrating Shabbat in Jerusalem, I was able to explore my Jewish identity alongside my people’s history. This historical connection to my Jewish heritage further emerged as our group climbed Masada at sunrise a few days later.
It was pitch black on a cool January morning. Our group collectively decided to traverse the snake trail. We were told it might be hard, but we decided we were up for the challenge together. So much so that there was a competition over who would get to the top first. Despite having mild asthma, I was motivated to stay at the front of the group and held my own among the guys in the group. We reached the top just moments before the sun rose. Those few moments gave me a chance to settle my breath and steady myself. As the sun slowly began its ascent, I lost my breath again. Here I linked the physical feeling with an emotional connection point: learning about the Jewish history atop the beautiful setting of Masada took my breath away.
Reflecting on my Birthright Israel experience, I see now that I previously encountered a lot of stereotypes surrounding Israel. Now home, I often debunk those misconceptions whenever they enter my life. I am now empowered to educate others because of my first-hand experience in Israel. Today I look closely at how political candidates view and support Israel and use this information to make my voting decisions.
Birthright Israel is a Jewish rite of passage for American Jews. Even though some may view the experience as a free trip, they return home knowing their time in Israel was so much more. Several of my friends chose to travel because they thought it would be a fun trip; they would go to the beach in Tel Aviv and maybe eat some good food. They did all of that, but what they took the most from it were things like climbing Masada and having authentic experiences that reconnected them with their Judaism and how they related to Israel.
The value of Birthright Israel is how it helps connect young Jews personally with their heritage rather than learning about it on a screen or while seated in a random classroom. A lot of college students are working and cannot afford to make this experience for themselves. Having an opportunity to claim our personal Birthright Israel experience is invaluable. Personally, I know I probably would not have gone to Israel without Birthright Israel.