The Birthright Israel experience is very different for an Israeli young adult than our American counterparts.…
Dear Birthright Israel Foundation Donor,
This is definitely the hardest letter I had to write in my entire life, and you’re probably wondering why. In the beginning, I was very skeptical about writing this down, and even worse, having to share this personal thought with you guys was very intimidating. But after some time of thinking about it (a year since my Birthright Israel trip, to be exact), I think I’m ready for you to know how my time in Israel was the most impactful and important thing that has happened to me in my 25 years.
I want to start by saying that I am writing this because I want to thank you with all of my heart. I want to reassure you that your gift is truly changing lives, which is helping young Jews like me reconnect with our roots, get to know more about our history, and change our perspectives on life for the rest of our days.
Thanks to you, I was able to meet my dad and my grandmother for the first time. I know how crazy it sounds. I can’t even believe this while I’m typing these words.
My dad Jack was born in Jerusalem to Carmela from Iraq and Samuel from Tunisia. My grandparents had to leave their countries to escape all the hatred towards Jewish people. And that’s how they decided to create a beautiful family in Israel. My dad left Israel in the 80s and migrated to New York and, later on, met my mom. A completely different person from a completely different world. My mom Patricia is Peruvian and Catholic, but at that time, their love was so big that they were able to transcend their own costums and religions. My mom even decided to convert and raise my old brother and me Jewish until I was three years old in Forrest Hills, Queens. Unfortunately, love wasn’t enough for them. That’s when my mom decided to move away from all this and return to her country (Peru) and raise me. She was so heartbroken that she didn’t want me to be reminded about my dad. So, she put me in a Catholic school and never told me about my Jewish background.
Eventually, when you are so little, you start forgetting things. I even completely forgot one of my first languages, which was Hebrew. I didn’t know a thing about Judaism. The only thing I thought I knew enough about was the Holocaust because they taught me in school while I was learning about World War II.
My dad, on the other side, never reached out, so that took away all my interest in this lovely world that I once had. In other words, my parent’s problems had a big repercussion on me and my identity as Jew. Years passed by, and even though I didn’t have any interest in meeting my dad, I still had a feeling that I was missing something. I didn’t know myself. I was in my early 20’s, and I had no clue where I was from (except my mom’s side). I was wondering every night who exactly I was.
I wanted to know more about not only the history of my oldest generations but also try to understand how this affected my family. I wanted to meet people like me with the same Jewish blood and visit our Holy Land. And Israel definitely gave me more than what I was looking for; I didn’t expect to find the most beautiful country and the most amazing human beings.
I remember clearly the last day as if it was yesterday. Our Birthright Israel Tour Guide asked us while sitting in the middle of a park in Tel Aviv what were the outcomes we gained. When it was my turn to talk, I couldn’t help but burst into tears. Every single tear meant how anxiously I was waiting to be in that exact moment in my life. I shared with everyone that I was never surrounded by Jews like me before this trip and that after this long journey, I found myself in every single one of them. I started looking at every face, and it was like I knew everyone my whole life, as if we were brothers and sisters. I’ve never had such a feeling of finally belonging in one place. I’ve been looking for Israel for such a long time in my dreams and found such a miraculous and healing land.
If I learned anything on this trip, it is that destiny is already written, and patience and trust could lead you to find the most fulfilling gift. Because ever since I left the Middle East, my outlook on life has undergone a profound transformation. After a whole year, I can confirm I’ve never been happier than I am now, knowing I am a Jew. Today I have another family that I look up to, and I see almost once a month to celebrate Shabbat dinner together.
Israel kept a little part of my heart, and in return, I keep the memory of the best trip of my life and the most amazing friends anyone could ask for. So, I am filled with deep gratitude as I express my heartfelt appreciation to you for the extraordinary gift that has forever impacted my existence. Thank you for reuniting me with my dad and my grandmother. I hope that all Jews across the globe rediscover their heritage, enabling them to encounter even a fraction of the profound joy I have been fortunate enough to experience.
2022 Birthright Israel Alum