My Jewish heritage has been with me since birth, but if I am honest, it was just a thing—kind of like lighting Shabbat candles or observing Jewish holidays. My heritage was there with no meaning. Then came my Birthright Israel trip, which made those Jewish heritage things much more.

As the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, my Poppy was always telling me about Israel and how blessed we were to have her. He encouraged me to learn more about Judaism and claim my birthright. Most of all, he wanted me to see the land of milk and honey for myself. After my Poppy passed, a Rabbi asked if I went on Birthright Israel. You should have seen the look on his face when I told him no – he was crushed. He told me a story of how my Poppy would say to him, “one day, my motek will go, and her soul will be fulfilled.”

Shortly after these events, I applied for Birthright Israel because after hearing that story, how could I not!

Ashley and her poppy lighting Hanukkah candles
Ashley with her Poppy on Hanukkah

Discovering my Jewish heritage in Israel.

I was eager to discover why so many people, including my Poppy, loved Israel so much. Finally, when my Birthright Israel group landed at Ben-Gurion Airport, you could say something inside us lit up. As my trip went on each day was a new opportunity to get more in touch with my Jewish heritage. By discovering my Jewish heritage through Birthright Israel I was able to learn that being Jewish is a people, a language, a culture, and, most importantly, beautiful.

I learned Israel is safe.

More so, I learned something very interesting. All around the world, Israel is always on the news. A bombing here, an airstrike there, and coming into my trip, I was a little scared. The media can make Israel out to be a war zone when in all actuality, Israel is the exact opposite of what the media portrays. The entire ten days I was in Israel, I felt safer than I do at home in the United States. And the people are genuinely the most amazing humans you will ever meet. They are full of life, love, and unity. Each Israeli wants to be your friend, show you the land, and of course, feed you! Israelis love for you to try their food!

Birthright Israel inspired my family to rediscover their Jewish heritage.

Since returning home from my Birthright Israel trip, I wake up every day, knowing how blessed I am to be Jewish. Birthright Israel changed the way I view life. I am more involved with my Jewish community and even attend our temple. My experience helped to reconfirm that materialistic things are nothing to chase. My family has also seen this new passion I have for my Jewish heritage, and as a result, my mom and brother have gotten more involved in our community!

Lastly, I can say with confidence everyone in my Birthright Israel group left this experience a changed person. The generosity of Birthright Israel Foundation’s donors has changed my whole world, and I know I will never be the same. Your gift to me will forever be appreciated.