On October 7th, inhumane acts were committed against Israelis who, as a Jew, I consider extensions of my own family. These atrocities took place in a land that I consider a second home, the place where my soul resides. We have all experienced loss and heartbreak in our lives but on this day, something much deeper within me was broken, struck by a grief so inexplicable that the very foundation of my belief in humanity was shaken. Within just 24 hours of these horrific events, hateful vitriol spread like wildfire, diminishing and demonizing our collective trauma. Imagine having a loved one brutally tortured, murdered, or kidnapped and taken to the tunnels underneath Gaza with no visibility as to their well-being or promise of return…and to have the world disregard these crimes entirely or, worse still, tell you that you brought it on yourself—solely because of who you are and where you live. Put bluntly: the world responded with no humanity, instead promoting a narrative so skewed as to harken back to the days of antisemitic Nazi propaganda. Given the unprecedented (per my generation) nature of the horrors committed, I felt called to unprecedented action; to be the humanity Israel needed—and, as if by fate, the email from Birthright Israel Onward calling for volunteers to go to Israel dropped into my inbox. Without skipping a beat, I filled out and submitted my application. Whether by kismet or by chance, this was the opportunity to put action to my principles and show up for my family during their time of need.

The response of my friends and family was split: non-Jews responded with panic, projecting their fears and implying (sometimes directly accusing) me of being insane and recklessly unaware of what I was signing up for, of compromising my future and selfishly disregarding the people who love me and would have to carry the weight of concern for my well-being. The Jews in my life understood the existential drive that compelled me to go “home” during this time of war to support our people. All responses were as expected (though no less draining to navigate), save for that of my father.

In preparation for the most terrifying conversation I had yet to have, I had my preamble set and braced myself for what I thought would inevitably be a fundamental and deeply emotional misalignment in understanding, given the different worlds we walk in. Without me even finishing said preamble, my dad gently interrupted and stated simply: “This is important to you, and I think you should do it. I support you 100%.”. On this, my father, a retired police officer, and I, a convert to Judaism, were aligned: the risk to self is worth it when it’s in the name of the greater good. With that, I found the chutzpah needed to make my final decision: I would go to Israel.

Andrea Rice and fellow Birthright Israel Onward alums

Throughout the work of boxing donations for displaced civilians with Pitchon Lev, I made meaningful connections with both volunteers and locals alike. From bearing witness to the pain of those whose families were on the front lines to the levity found in the gallows humor of my friends, this experience added new dimensions to the way I viewed the conflict at hand and the resilience of the people in the direct line of fire. With this insight, I felt compelled to share my on-the-ground experience on Instagram to help educate others in the spirit of combating the weaponization of social media that we’re witnessing today. I hoped that my one voice, as small as it is, could help those in Israel feel less alone and perhaps foster understanding within my limited following so they could better humanize and empathize with us amid the chaotic, algorithm-driven bombardment of misinformation. Lastly, people needed to see that driving change takes action—it is not enough to be “keyboard social justice warriors”—if we actually care about the causes we preach about, we need to do something about it.

I’ve found myself forever changed for the better due to this experience. I tapped into a part of myself that I didn’t know was dormant, waiting patiently to be activated: that philanthropic drive—the pursuit of living a life larger than myself—and my passionate belief in Zionism. Without the support of Birthright Israel Foundation donors, I doubt I would have ever had the means to go to Israel and provide the support that I was able to; to establish the relationships that I have carried home with me or to connect as deeply with my Jewish identity. Honestly, through this program, I was able to find my own faith in humanity again…which is a profound gift that transcends monetary value. For that, in addition to everything else, I am eternally grateful. Am Yisrael Chai.