I participated in Birthright Israel one year ago. I remember there was something special about our group, in the connections that were created, especially in the sense of “togetherness.” So, it’s been a year now, but the magic of the tour and those special memories accompany me to this day, and I’m sure they will in the future too.

The best way I can describe the feeling is through a special and slightly spontaneous activity we did a few weeks ago when we were all still stuck inside because of coronavirus. One of the members of our group came up with an idea to do a digital Zoom meeting. I was sure there would be 7-10 members of the group and nothing more. Much to my surprise, about 30 people from the United States and Israel ended up in the conversation!

Friends from the United States shared about their time at home, but it was very important for them to know and understand what was happening here in Israel. We talked, laughed, and recounted experiences in an open and flowing conversation as if it had not been a year since we met! The conversation went on for about two hours and everything felt so natural and fun.

As part of the conversation, we exchanged experiences of our Passover Seders during coronavirus. I was pleased to find that a large part of the participants of our group participated in a Seder, although some were completely alone. Sometimes I forget that my American friends from Birthright Israel also celebrate the same holidays and we have a lot in common even if we are at different ends of the world.

There is one magical moment that I remember most on that Zoom call – when we Israelis explained that everything is closed in Israel and that there are no parties, restaurants and even shopping, one of the Americans from our groups mentioned the time we spent at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem and asked – “What! Also, the Mahane Yehuda market is closed??” It was from this moment that I realized how much our Birthright Israel experience is still alive and meaningful in the hearts of participants from abroad, and us Israelis too.

Suddenly a year goes by, I have already managed to get out of the army, fly and return from my post-army trip, and we still remain a cohesive group that keeps up to date and maintains high morale. Apparently, the two weeks we spent together were very meaningful, strong, and connected as each one connected from their own angle to the groups. I didn’t expect this to happen to me, not only with friends from Israel but also from the US.

The last day’s activity of our Birthright Israel journey symbolizes the impact of the experience for my group. The educator put us in a big circle and passed a ball of yarn between us, each holding a different end of the string. In this activity, you see how the thread that goes out goes between everyone and makes a long and complex path that successfully unites and connects all members of the group. I took my piece from this thread and I keep it in my room at home as a memento from that special experience on Birthright Israel. There is not a day that goes by that I do not look at the piece of thread — it is undoubtedly an experience that will stay with me forever.

My big gift from Birthright Israel is the people. Thanks to the conversations we had, the questions we asked, and the openness we eventually created. When we were on Mount Herzl and I stood there as an Israeli soldier in uniform, and they were feeling the emotions of the place together with me, we all already felt the “togetherness” that was created.

I think one day I will tell my children about the unique experience I had on Birthright Israel, which connects young people from all corners of the world, when the main thing that connects us is our Jewish identities. Birthright Israel opened for me a world I did not know, these moments and memories are still so relevant and real in my heart – I just can’t believe a year has already gone by!

This blog post was translated from Hebrew to English and was originally published on May 31, 2020. Read Adi Wegrzyn’s original blog post in Hebrew »