Luis Burgos is a 2019 Birthright Israel alumnus who grew up in New York City, spent time in Los Angeles, where he converted to Judaism and then made his way back to the Big Apple. Like so many of our alumni, Luis’ Jewish identity is unique and, most of all, inspiring. Through the photos below, you’ll get a sense of his style, art, and the beauty of his Birthright Israel trip. However, before you awe over his 35mm photos, check out our Q&A below.

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Q: What made you want to convert to Judaism?

A: I was living in LA and realized something was missing – I didn’t have any Jewish friends. Growing up in NYC, I had a lot of Jewish friends and felt a connection to the community. I thought it must mean something that I missed this piece so I converted at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills. I had my Beit Din and Mikveh in June 2016.

Q: What did your family think of you becoming Jewish?

A: My parents supported me. I even brought them to Temple so they could see what we do and hear our songs. They were really excited for me to go to Israel when I told them about my Birthright Israel trip.

Q: How did you hear about Birthright Israel?

A: I had heard about the trip way before I converted. At first, I was hesitant to go because of the media portrayal of Israel is one of constant strife. I kept postponing going waiting for a time without conflict when I realized that life always has conflict. I realized a narrative of fear and violence was being pushed on me, similar to the way communities of color portrayal is skewed to show only the shadow of our days. I decided I needed to see Israel for myself and see how the people there live in reality.

Q: What did it feel like to finally arrive in the Jewish homeland?

A: Israel was way more peaceful than I thought. I felt more accepted as a convert in Israel, no one questioned my Judaism. There is the understanding there that what makes someone Jewish is not the color of their skin but the way in which they live their lives striving for justice and peace through good deeds that repair the world.

Q: What was your biggest takeaway from Birthright Israel?

A: The country is much more integrated than I imagined. It was beautiful to experience groups of people who are portrayed to be in conflict, come together for each other. For example, I met groups in Jaffa that teach other skills of trade and language. It was wonderful to see two strangers laugh and smile with each other. 

Q: What did Birthright Israel do for you personally?

A: I had experienced a hate crime in LA, and Birthright Israel was my act of healing and liberation. I was welcomed by the community and learned more about the folklore and rituals we keep. I’ve very grateful for the experience. It taught me that I can heal from anything and my love is deep enough to hold pain so that I can live my life to the fullest. I feel so much gratitude for the journey of Birthright Israel.