How do you go from being a 19-year-old soldier in the IDF to becoming an international Jewish and Israel educator, an author, and a public speaker on some of the world’s largest events within ten years?

The answer is simple: You just go on a Birthright Israel trip, and sooner or later, your life will never be the same. Because you see, on that transformational trip, a spark will be ignited within you, and it will burn bright for years to come.

In my case, that little spark quickly became a burning flame of curiosity and hunger for learning and wanting more as I participated in Birthright Israel for the first time in 2012. As an Israeli, I was sure I knew everything about Judaism and its history, but I knew very little about the experiences and identities of other Jews. After spending a wonderful trip with young Jews who were so foreign — yet so much like me — I felt inspired, and I dug deep while exploring my own Jewish identity and heritage.

As part of life-changing research, I’ve discovered incredible details about my family, background, and narrative that I had no idea ever existed. I mean, how else would I have learned that my great grandfather was the first Jew ever to become an Iraqi parliament member and that he was also one of the main leaders in his Jewish community who had saved the lives of so many?

I was blown away and felt like I found a completely hidden piece of my story as more and more parts of the puzzle were coming together. The flame that my Birthright Israel trip sparked became wildfire within me. Somehow, I knew it was just the beginning.

Lior Navon with her Birthright Israel group holding an Israeli flag on top of Masada

I volunteered in diverse delegations worldwide, sharing the story of Israel and the Jewish people, attending more Birthright Israel trips as a student, and making meaningful memories that still echo in my heart. Each trip provided my friends and me with rare opportunities to connect in the place where it all started, the place where some of our family members and ancestors could only dream of being. We all had a chance to interact, ask questions, doubt, laugh, and even cry with people who are so different yet are so similar, just like Jewish people have been doing as a community for thousands of years.

But that wasn’t enough, and until this day, I cannot explain it — I just knew there was something more I was meant to do. Shortly after I could articulate this thought to myself, I was invited to start my position as Johns Hopkins’ Israel educator. My excitement was indescribable, as I knew that one major component of the position will be leading Birthright Israel trips and exploring Jewish identity with students. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have this unique chance to create the life-changing experience I had as a participant, but this time for my own students.

“But why are you even doing this? Why were you willing to leave your home?” asked one of my students as we climbed Masada at dawn. “Israel is so beautiful, and I feel like I belong here like I’ve never felt anywhere else; why would you ever leave here?” he said with a puzzled look on his face. As I took a deep breath, I replied that on my first Birthright Israel trip, I heard a quote by the great Israeli politician Yigal Alon who said, “when a people does not honor its past, it lives in a present of little substance, and faces a future clouded in doubt.” As someone who comes from a family of Jewish emissaries who were willing to put their lives on the line for the freedom and preservation of the Jewish people, I felt that meeting each and every student, experiencing this trip together, and being a part of their journeys is an honor worth crossing any ocean for.

Birthright Israel Fellow Lior Navon with her husband David

After three years of leading many Israel trips, composing award-winning programs, writing various articles, and sharing the incredible impact this transformational trip has on young Jews on stages worldwide, I thought I couldn’t be any more surprised by the change Birthright Israel could have made in my life. But of course, I was wrong! As I had never even imagined that on a very ordinary day, I was about to meet another Birthright Israel alum and that one pandemic later—he would become my husband.

It all started with a simple decision to join a ten days trip a decade ago that had made me who I am and led me exactly where I was meant to be.

All it takes is one trip, that one spark, so the next chapter of your life could be much more than what you could ever dream about.