Jacob Babbin is a 2022 Birthright Israel alumnus with Non-Verbal Learning Disability (NVLD). Non-Verbal Learning Disability is when people struggle with various conditions that include social and spatial disabilities. Jacob knew about the Birthright Israel program but thought he would not be a good fit because of his disability. Nonetheless, Jacob pushed himself to sign up and was elated with his experience.

In a speech Jacob gave to his group during the trip he shared that without doing Birthright Israel he didn’t think he would be able to grow internally. Below is an excerpt:

“The first time it really hit me this group was special was when we were in the Old City. I sat down and there was not a lot of room and Jessica sat right next to me — with no issues. In High School and at other events no one would ever sit next to me. I was always excluded. I have never been this close with people.”

In our Q&A below, we invite you to learn more about Jacob and his experience on Birthright Israel.

Q&A with 2022 Alumnus Jacob Babbin

What inspired you to sign up for a Birthright Israel trip?

Jacob: “I come from an interfaith family. My Mother is Catholic my father is Jewish. I have grown up hearing about “The Troubles in Ireland” until they ended and the conflict in Israel. My cousin and his wife encouraged me to go on Birthright Israel, and my cousin on my mother’s side is marrying a Jewish woman.”

Did you have any preconceived notions prior to going to Israel?

Jacob: “Yes, I thought it would be unsafe until my cousin’s wife told me she had felt perfectly safe.”

Throughout your childhood, did you have a connection to your Jewish heritage?

Jacob: “When I was young my uncle, who passed away in 2011 when I was 21, made sure I had a connection to my Jewish heritage. He would always make sure I knew the answers to his questions at the Passover Seder.”

2022 Birthright Israel alumnus Jacob Babbin with Mifgash from his trip outside Mt. Herzl

What was the biggest takeaway from your Birthright Israel trip?

Jacob: “My two biggest takeaways which are really one giant takeaway. The first was Yad Vashem and Mt. Herzl. My grandfather served in WW2 so going through Yad Vashem felt really personal. In the fact, I saw what my grandfather was fighting for up close and personal. Mt. Herzl brought the memory of my grandfather’s death back to me when I was six. Seeing all the graves over and over and being in Israel and discovering my Jewish identity I was thinking of him.

At Mt. Herzl, our group leader Lauren gave a speech about being open and being outward during death which I was not when my grandfather died, nor was I when my mother’s mother passed. I turned inward and was mad when my grandfather died, so mad. It was a busy time so I don’t know who noticed or did not. I remember during his burial I was angry at whoever took the shovel and poured dirt on him because I felt as though my grandfather was being taken from me. However, I should not have because he was already gone. This is only the second time I have written about this in my life. And both times have occurred after my Birthright Israel trip. So thank you, Lauren and Jonah and Rachel and Mayanot Bus #94 for helping me open up.

Lastly, what surprised me most about the Israelis in our group as they took the time to get to know every single one of us. Once I returned home each Israeli remembered me and we all keep in contact.

What would you say if you could meet the donor who made your trip possible?

Jacob: “I would give them a hug and say thank you for changing my life when I needed it the most.”