The Birthright Israel experience is very different for an Israeli young adult than our American counterparts. When I was asked to join a Birthright Israel group in Tel Aviv for three days, I said, “of course, it’s a free vacation.” Most of all, I was excited to have time off from the army. I was very excited about this “free vacation” we Israelis called it.

However, little did I know it would be a vacation that would impact my life for years to come. Birthright Israel for me was the first time I would meet young Jews who were not Israeli. I remember these young adults were so excited to meet us and, of course, be in Israel. I can still remember the excitement in their eyes as we walked around Tel Aviv and just hung out.

The Americans were fascinated by our lives and our military service. I was fascinated at how much pride they had in being Jewish. They also had a deep love for Israel, which they had never visited before until now. I could not understand how or why they had such a deep connection to my country. They also thanked us for our service and protecting Israel, even though we were not protecting them or the US.

As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, I always knew I wanted to protect Israel. So during my service, I worked hard to become a member of the Israeli Navy and even harder to be a Navy Seal. I was always thinking of my grandparents and knew I wanted to defend my people and my country. I also learned that the Americans were protecting Israel, too, just in a different way. The conversations we shared and the bonds we created made me prouder to be a soldier.

The time I spent on Birthright Israel was short, but the people impacted me significantly. I realized that each of us played a role in sustaining and protecting Am Yisrael. We may have grown up separated by an ocean, but Birthright Israel showed us we are tied together through our dedication to Israel and our Jewish heritage. The Birthright Israel program united the children of Israel and showed us the power of community.

As an Israeli living in America today, I appreciate what this trip does for Israelis and those in the Diaspora even more. I know that there are Birthright Israel alumni everywhere who stand up for Israel and feel a deep connection to our homeland.

More About Lior Ofir

Lior Ofir was born in Ramat Gan, Israel. He was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces in 2003 where he joined the elite Naval Commando Unit (“Shyetet 13”). His roles included being a sniper, a medic, and hand-to-hand Krav Maga combat instructor and he served for almost five years. As a reserve duty serviceman – he is one of the team members in charge of selecting the future students in the trials. Lior is also a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Champion and a motivational speaker. He reinforces and gives tools to overcome challenges and to pursue excellence. 

In 2019 Lior founded StandStrong, a nonprofit organization with the mission to empower thousands of youth through self-defense so they could feel confident and proud of their Jewish identity, and always be able to protect themselves.