It has always been my dream to visit Israel. And when my parents decided they would…
Growing up, I remember being told I was Jewish and celebrated the holidays with my family but nothing else. I didn’t go to Hebrew school, nor did I have a Bar Mitzvah like my brother did. I knew I was Jewish, but I would always make the joke that I was “Jew-ish” and didn’t know much more about Judaism or Israel.
All through college, I had friends and family go on their Birthright Israel trips and talk about how amazing of a trip it was and how some met their now-life partners. I never thought of going on my own Birthright Israel trip because I didn’t think I was Jewish enough, nor did I have much interest at the time. After the age of 26, I never thought of it again because I was past the age requirements. For a brief period, Birthright Israel ran a pilot program for young Jewish adults ages 27-32. So, my window of opportunity came up when my mother looked at me and said, “You will be making the biggest mistake of your life by not at least applying to go,” and she was right.
After applying and getting accepted to participate in a trip, COVID, unfortunately, pushed it back to 2022, but the excitement and anticipation never stopped. All of my friends and family who previously were on the trips were beyond excited for me.
In March 2022, I was finally on my Birthright Israel trip, where we met our group of Israelis who would be spending the next ten days with us. In a matter of minutes upon landing in Israel, our group acted like old friends reconnecting. I shared with everyone my story and questions about Judaism and Israel and quickly found other Americans who were in a similar situation of “not feeling Jewish enough.” We were all on our own journeys together. I also felt like I was exactly where I needed to be, which is a feeling that I haven’t felt in a very long time. I felt like Israel was home, and the people who were there were like my family.
Though learning about Jewish history and culture, it wasn’t until the night at the Bedouin tents when I felt something change inside of me that I truly felt like I belonged and felt Jewish. My Birthright Israel trip changed me, and I wanted to re-discover Judaism back home in the States with my new “family” that I met on my trip.
However, it wasn’t enough, and I wanted more and to give back, so I applied to be a staff member and was fortunate to lead a trip. I wanted other young adults to have the same or similar experience that I did when it came to discovering what Judaism is and Israel.
Staffing a Birthright Israel trip was just as exciting as being a participant. However, it opened my eyes to other viewpoints and perspectives of other young adults about their Jewish identity, and they challenged me to continue on my own journey while also broadening and learning about their own.
I couldn’t get enough of Israel. I wanted to learn so much more, see more of the country and meet more people and spend more time with my new “family.” So I took advantage of the Onward Career Passport program that let me work my job remotely in Tel Aviv for one month. While meeting other young Jewish professionals from around the world in this program, I learned how to work my job remotely in another country and connect with others. I celebrated Shabbat with new friends, learned more about Israel and all of the businesses and organizations they had, and continued to learn more about Judaism for myself.
Birthright Israel, staffing, and Onward has changed my life so significantly that I feel more connected to Judaism and Israel than I have ever imagined. Having not known much about either, I feel like I can properly speak for the people of Israel and the importance of the country. More so, I feel more connected and proud of being Jewish. I was lost in my life spiritually and felt disconnected before, and I didn’t know where to start to learn about being Jewish. I can say confidently that 2022 was a huge turning point in my life for the better, and I feel like I have grown as an individual and have become a better person because of it.
They say there’s something in the air in Israel or an energy, that really shines a light on the country and the people there, and it’s true. It’s hard to describe, but it’s a feeling that you just know when you feel it. I could not have been more fortunate to go on a Birthright Israel trip.