My name is Nicole Lucas; I am a Junior at Washington University in St. Louis (originally from Chicago) studying Global Health and Biology, hoping to become a physician. I am President of WashU’s AEPhi chapter, a research intern at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, and a volunteer at senior centers running improv workshops with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.

My parents have been involved with Birthright Israel Foundation for as long as I can remember. They would always tell me how amazing an opportunity was, so I grew up knowing that when I was finally old enough, I would sign up for a trip to experience what I had heard about for so long.

I am so fortunate to have amazing family friends who live in Israel and whom I visit almost every year. While I had preconceived notions about Israel being the most amazing place with the kindest people, I was not sure what to expect going on a trip with people who maybe didn’t have the same appreciation for Israel that I already had. However, seeing my friends on my trip fall in love with Israel just like I had on my previous trips was so fulfilling and one of the most memorable parts of the trip.

I grew up going to a Jewish Day school, learning Hebrew and about Jewish culture every single day, celebrating all of the holidays in school and with my family, so I felt connected to my Jewish identity even before visiting Israel. Growing up, however, l was always told how different Israeli children our age were from us because of the mandatory army service; therefore, what surprised me most about the Israelis who joined our trip for a couple of days was how similar they were to us! We all talked about how, before we met, we were told “Americans are so different” and “Israelis are so different,” but when we met, we clicked right away and didn’t feel like we had many differences!

Since coming home from the trip, I have been telling every one of my eligible friends that it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity they must take advantage of. There is no other experience for young Jewish adults like Birthright Israel. If I could meet the person who made my trip possible, firstly, I couldn’t thank them enough for making it possible for me, a complete stranger, to have the opportunity to connect more with my Jewish culture—something I didn’t even know was possible after being to Israel so many times before!

Birthright Israel is not simply a trip to Israel. In 10 days, Israel stitched friendships and memories forever woven into my Jewish identity.