It has always been my dream to visit Israel. And when my parents decided they would…
While everyone’s a bundle of nerves about meeting new people and making Jewish friends before their Birthright Israel trip, the fear quickly melts away when they instantly connect with their group. The 40 or so Jewish young adults from throughout the Diaspora and Israel grow as close as family as they embrace their homeland and heritage on this life-changing trip.
“From the start of my trip when I arrived at JFK airport and was welcomed by my new friends, to when we touched down in Tel Aviv and met the Israelis who would join us on our journey, there was a fulfilling sense of love and friendship in the air,” said alumna Nicole Wieder. “It was instant and natural; something I had yet to experience. An experience that seems unlikely I’ll ever have again.
Do you remember the strongest connection you made on Birthright Israel? Was it friendship or besheret? Either way, it’s safe to say, friendships formed on a 10-day Birthright Israel trip last a lifetime.
Friendships Across Borders
Making Jewish friends on the Birthright Israel trip and staying connected long after, is a strong trend for alumni. Additionally, more than 40 percent of alumni are more likely to participate in Jewish social events and to have friends who are Jewish, according to Brandeis University.
“At the end of the day, there aren’t many Jews worldwide,” said Israeli alumnus Guy Richards, who served as a Mifgash (or Israeli participant) on Birthright Israel. “I believe it is important to form friendships with one another and improve the connection and communication between each other.”
Alumna Jordan Shipowtiz expected to make some friends on her Israel trip. “Instead, my Birthright Israel group turned into a family,” she said. When it comes to her Jewish family, Shipowitz continues reaping the benefits of her trip today by living in a city with lots of Birthright Israel alumni.
Friendships made on Birthright Israel transcend state and country borders, like for alumnus David Bitton, who became good friends with a Mifgash. “I stayed with him in Israel after this trip, and he came to visit me in the U.S. for two weeks,” said Bitton. “Even years later, both he and I remain very good friends.”
With Jews spread across the world, many Birthright Israel friends rely on technology to keep them connected. Alumnus Nathan Lightman, for instance, connected with Jewish young adults from Buenos Aires, Argentina on his trip. “It’s been six months, but our Birthright Israel group chat is still alive and kicking on WhatsApp,” he said.
Here’s a couple of other ways Birthright Israel Foundation connects its alumni through technology:
- The Birthright Israel app keeps alumni connected after the trip, providing access to contacts, event information, and more.
- To address the pandemic, Birthright Israel launched Birthright Israel Connect in May. The online platform was designed to connect alumni for meaningful discussions with the help of trained facilitators and educators.
It Runs in the Family
Sometimes Birthright Israel participants aren’t strangers but siblings. In many cases, the trip helps connect them to their Jewish heritage and each other.
“Matt and I had never spent that much time together in our entire lives, so it was an excellent opportunity to bond more,” said alumna Jennalyn Samson. “We loved getting to know each other, the other group members, and the young Israelis who joined our group.”
Alumna Emily Maguire and her sister were still dealing with the loss of their father when they went on Birthright Israel together. The trip to Israel sparked a healing bond for the grieving sisters.
“Birthright Israel was the best thing I have ever done in my life,” said Maguire. “Not only did it allow me to heal together with my sister, but it also helped me to grow as a person socially … I visited people from the group and we are talking about getting together soon. And our group chat is still going strong!”
Sydney Lipsitz and her stepbrother Cameron Koffman didn’t go on Birthright Israel together, but their individual experiences ended up inspiring their family to rediscover their Jewish heritage. “I even got my mom and grandmother to come to Shabbat services with me,” said Koffman. “I never imagined I’d go to Shabbat services, let alone pay any attention to this ritual.”
Headed to the Chuppah
While we can’t make any promises to Jewish mothers or bubbes, it’s a well-known fact that many Birthright Israel participants find their soulmate on Birthright Israel.
Alumni Tatiana Lundstrom and Haley Harris-Bloom experienced love at first sight. “I remember one night, maybe the fourth or fifth night of the trip when we were camping in the desert,” said Tatiana. “We walked away from the group to explore and just sat and talked for hours under the stars. Even though neither of us had made a move yet, I knew that I wanted to see her again after the trip.”
Meanwhile, more than 13 million people watched alumni Loren and Alexei Brovarnik become engaged on Season 3 of the TLC show 90 Day Fiancé. The show follows international couples on their search for true love.
Even if participants don’t meet their soulmate (or land a reality TV show), there’s still some good news. The Birthright Israel trip does have an influence on whom they end up marrying. A new Brandeis University study released in November shows that 55 percent of Birthright participants are likely to marry Jewish.
Another Brandeis University study shows that 84 percent of participants are raising their children Jewish. “We truly believe it was fate that we chose to connect closer with our Judaism on Birthright Israel, and want to make sure Judaism is a very important part of our son’s upbringing,” said alumni Dana and Aaron.
They believe a bond formed on Birthright Israel is a bond that can’t be broken.
Since 1999, Birthright Israel Foundation has helped send more than 800,000 Jewish young adults like you to Israel. Whether it’s through technology or in person, we wouldn’t be surprised if you told us you still keep in touch with your Jewish friends from the trip. Some alumni even end up tying the knot and raising their children Jewish.
“There is power in the experience young adults have on the trip, and it enables them to form a community,” said Birthright Israel Foundation donor Sara Meyers. As for why this happens, her husband Stuart added: “When you go on the trip you realize you’re not alone. You find people who share your values.”
The lifelong relationships you created on Birthright Israel play a major role in keeping the Jewish community strong now and in the future. That is our goal, after all: to guarantee a vibrant future of the Jewish people by strengthening Jewish identity, Jewish communities, and connections with Israel.
Are you interested in learning about the many ways to support Birthright Israel Foundation? Even the smallest contribution can help send others like you on a life-changing experience. Donate today and help secure the Jewish future tomorrow and beyond.