My Jewish background was hidden throughout childhood but has been brought forward as I’ve stepped into adulthood. When I was a kid, I was told never to disclose my Jewishness to people. As a mixed child, my family felt that appearing both Black and Jewish would subject me to too much discrimination, therefore, I kept my Jewish observation inconspicuous. Growing up, I had gone to temple with my mother, attended a cousin’s Bar Mitzvah and celebrated the Jewish holidays at home, but that was as far as it went. I didn’t really start to explore my Judaism until I went to college. That is where I began getting involved in Jewish-based and pro-Israel events, and discovered that I’d be interested in working for a Jewish organization one day. I now work at a Jewish nonprofit called the Leichtag Foundation. My job is what really pushed me to start expressing my Jewish identity, helped me learn about myself, Judaism, and Jewish values.
Last December, I went on an LGBTQ trip with Israel Outdoors. At 24 years old, I finally felt comfortable with myself and ready to embark on this life-changing journey. During this experience, my already existing appreciation and understanding of Israel and my Jewish identity grew tremendously and I now feel a deeper connection to my Jewish roots. I could definitely say that my life would not be the same if I hadn’t gone on Birthright Israel.
The trip itself was incredible and something I could have never even imagined. My favorite part may have been the time we spent with our Israeli peers. It was so special to connect with people who live our experiences in an entirely different way. We had so many beautiful conversations with each other- conversations that lead to laughter, tears, and everything in between. Those of us who extended got to spend additional time with our new Israeli friends and it will always be something I’ll remember.
As LGBTQ-identifying people, it was very important for my peers and I to have open and insightful conversations. During one of our conversations, my friend, Alisa, said something that really touched me. She said, “I got to share the part of me that I love the most with everyone.” That was incredibly powerful for me to hear, and I think of that EVERY time I think of Birthright Israel. It couldn’t be more true- we all got to share the part of ourselves we love the most with each other. And that made us all feel accepted, respected, and connected.
If I hadn’t had the chance to go on Birthright Israel, I would not have had the opportunity to make the amazing group of friends that I made. I’m confident that I’ll keep in touch with every person I went on the trip with – they are like family to me. Without Birthright Israel, I would have never met them and expanded my community. Coming back home, I also understand why Israel, particularly Jerusalem, is the intersection of culture and religion. It is the birthplace of identity for so many people, yet it’s also so new as a country and that unique positioning is compelling. I am changed by this trip.
I believe that Birthright Israel plays a major part in the lives of young Jews because it provides an accessible method of getting to Israel while also enabling participants to explore the parts of the country that truly interest them – especially through niche trips. It also connects us to a whole part of ourselves that we may never get to experience otherwise. Birthright Israel is crucial to the Jewish people. The trip preserves history, educates the younger generation, and pursues a bright and vibrant Jewish future. I think if any young Jew is remotely interested in learning about and experiencing Israel, this trip is a necessity.
Since coming home, I have not only become prouder of my Jewish identity, but of all my identities- Queer, Black, Jewish and a Person of Size. Every one of my unique identities had space to exist together on this trip, and they were expressed through my Jewishness. I’ve spent the past few years becoming more rooted in my Jewishness and how I want to express it. Throughout the trip, I called to some Jewish values that resonated with me. One, in particular, was a quote from Rabbi Hillel. He says, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” This really stuck with me and calls me to community- particularly the LGBTQ community- to create that for myself and those around me. To fully embrace myself and genuinely be the person I want to be- for me.
To the donors who gave me this gift, I’d like to say thank you. Thank you for believing that history must be shared and taught to the younger generation. Thank you for allowing us to experience this beautiful country through this program. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to explore ourselves on this trip and for coming together to advance our personal wealth & cultural capital. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
To read more about Jordan’s Birthright Israel experience, check out his blog!
Jordan Daniels hails from Union City, California and resides in San Diego. He graduated from Long Beach State University with a degree in Journalism and Public Relations. Jordan is a Communications Associate at the Leichtag Foundation and absolutely loves working in the Jewish non-profit world. Jordan’s hobbies include writing and photography.