There were many years when Judaism was not a priority for Mark and Renee Kaufman’s daughter, Desiree. She had no interest in going to temple, following Jewish customs and traditions, or marrying a Jew.
Then Desiree received the gift of a Birthright Israel trip, traveling for free along with a group of her peers. In Israel, she experienced what one can only describe as a spiritual and religious awakening. She finally felt a strong connection with the Jewish State, her heritage, and her religion.
Birthright Israeltransformed Desiree’s lifein the following ways:
- She made lifelong Jewish friends
- She was emotionally moved by her trip
- She brought home Jewish art and aMezuzah
- She wants to marry a Jewish man
The Kaufmans couldn’t be more ecstatic. “Our daughter has finally uncovered and enthusiastically embraced her Jewish identity and religion,” they said. “To Birthright Israel Foundation and the donors who made this trip possible: thank you so much for the wonderful gift you provided to our daughter, and to us as loving Jewish parents.”
Apathy for Judaism among younger generations is a common concern for Jewish parents like the Kaufmans, grandparents, and even siblings who worry about the longstanding survival of Israel and the Jewish people. Fortunately, with the help of 40,000 individual donors, Birthright Israel Foundation takes a proactive approach, aiming to send nearly 50,000 Jewish young adults to Israel every year.
Read on to meet some of our Birthright Israel families and to learn how Birthright Israel is easing their worries by broadening their exposure to Jewish customs and traditions.
Birthright Israel parent Daniela Filmer isn’t Jewish, but she wanted to pass her late husband’s Jewish heritage onto their son, Jacob—something she couldn’t do. “Knowing that Jacob participated in Birthright Israel would have made his father so happy,” said Filmer. “I know my son felt closer to his father being immersed in Jewish culture and activities. Honestly, it brings tears to my eyes, just thinking about this all and how proud his father would have been knowing his son made it to Israel.”
Jacob came back from Israel a changed person, she said, with a more insightful view on Jewish history, happenings, and heritage, according to his mother. “He became a young man with increased confidence to pursue his life goals,” she said. “Birthright Israel opened his eyes to so many things and definitely gave him a sense of pride for where and who he comes from.”
When Stacy Geer’s son, Jonah, was diagnosed with high-functioning autism, she wasn’t sure what life opportunities and Jewish milestones he would be able to achieve.
Seventeen years later, Birthright Israel—which offers opportunities for young adults of all abilities—became a big exciting checkmark on Jonah’s list. On the trip, he met Israeli soldiers, learned Hebrew words and songs, lit Chanukah candles, sang the blessings, and even rode a camel in the desert.
“As a special needs mom, it is hard to convey to others how special it is that Jonah has been able to do so many of the things that his peers are doing,” said Geer. “When I met him at the airport after he landed at JFK and I saw the expression on his face as he embraced the Birthright Israel participants one by one, it was clear just how happy (and proud of himself) he was. I can’t say strongly enough how appreciative we are for this program.”
Sydney Lipsitz and Cameron Koffman
New Yorkers Sydney Lipsitz and her stepbrother Cameron Koffman did not go on Birthright Israel together. Although the siblings rediscovered their Jewish heritage separately, their experiences ended up impacting the whole family.
“My trip inspired me, and my whole family to rediscover our Jewish heritage,” said Koffman. “I even got my mom and grandmother to come to Shabbat services with me. I never imagined I’d go to Shabbat services, let alone pay any attention to this ritual.” Cameron and Sydney have Shabbat dinner together once a month with their families.
Birthright Israel parent Stacey Cohen had two wishes for her sons, Lenny and Ben:
- She wanted them to have eternal faith in G-d.
- She wanted them to feel connected as brothers.
Birthright Israel strengthened her sons’ relationship to Judaism and each other. “During their trip, they felt so secure and good about their heritage,” said Cohen. “They walked into home when they stepped foot there.”
Rebecca from San Diego
From the people and culture to the education and experiences, Rebecca’s daughter loved every second of Birthright Israel. “She went in convinced that … she’d be bored,” said Rebecca. “Instead, she returned in awe. The group explored from sunup to sundown daily, and my daughter felt like no sightseeing stone was left unturned. The education was fascinating to her. Lastly, she has a better, deeper understanding of Judaism than I was ever able to convey.”
For Rebecca, the trip was special because it offered “vivid exposure to Judaism,” which went beyond their family traditions. “Those are essential,” she said, “but the ability to see and feel the history in the land where it started is unsurpassed!”
Help Us Broaden Their Exposure
Polled by Brandeis University upon their return from Israel, 85 percent of Birthright Israel participants call their Birthright Israel trip a life-changing experience. It’s a statistic that makes Jewish mothers, fathers, grandmas, and grandpas sigh with relief.
But we can’t continue to offer Jewish young adults the opportunity to experience this transformative trip at no cost, not without dedicated Jewish community members like you. Will you make a donation and help ensure a stronger future for the Jewish people?