Brett Cooper is a 2009 Birthright Israel alum and Birthright Israel Foundation donor. He learned from…
In the interview below, Birthright Israel alum Ben Khavkin from Las Vegas, NV, shares how his trip impacted his life. The 21-year-old participated in Birthright Israel in the summer of 2023 before starting medical school. Ben is now a student of medicine at Touro University in Nevada; his passions include medicine, science, and service.
Q&A with Ben Khavkin
What inspired you to sign up for a Birthright Israel trip?
Ben Khavkin: “I have wanted to go on a Birthright Israel trip for many years and have recently heard many amazing accounts of the program from my friends. My Rabbi at Chabad on Campus encouraged me to have this experience and spoke highly of it. Most importantly, the timing of a summer trip worked out exceptionally well, which was right after my college graduation and aligned with dates where I could travel with friends and family.”
Did you have any preconceived notions prior to going to Israel?
Ben Khavkin: “I had an overall positive outlook on Israel before the trip. I have family that live in Israel, and I have been once before for my Bar Mitzvah. I was very excited to connect with the country and people as much as possible, and Birthright Israel really allowed me to do that.”
Did you grow up with a connection to your Jewish identity?
Ben Khavkin: “Yes, I grew up in a family of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and have been raised with Jewish values in the household. I felt connected to my Jewish identity when we would celebrate holidays and follow Jewish traditions and customs. I also had the privilege of attending a Jewish High School where I participated in weekly Shabbat services, a kosher campus, and many other meaningful activities.”
What was your biggest takeaway from the trip?
Ben Khavkin: “I learned that Israel is not black and white. This concept applies to culture, politics, people, food, etc. I gained a new appreciation for how people living in different parts of Israel go about their daily lives, often coexisting with neighbors of shared beliefs or different beliefs. I was surprised by the overall tradition of love towards other people. Everyone I encountered was so kind and genuine. It urged me to do the same and made me want to be a part of this wonderful country.”
How has Birthright Israel played a role in your life since coming home from the trip?
Ben Khavkin: “Birthright Israel has truly connected me to my Judaism like never before. I practice Judaism daily and allow all the values I learned on the trip to seep into my daily life. I always talk about my experiences with friends and family and keep thinking back to the amazing opportunities I had. I have also maintained several new friendships because of the trip and am extremely grateful.”
Are you involved more in your Jewish community because of your Birthright Israel trip?
Ben Khavkin: “Since returning from my trip, I have tried to be more active in my local Chabad on Campus and at my University’s Jewish Community. I have interacted with many new Jewish connections and feel genuinely proud to be Jewish!”
What would you say if you could meet the donor who made your trip possible?
Ben Khavkin: “I am extremely and eternally grateful to the donors who made this trip a reality for me and my family. I have learned so much from the experiences in Israel and will carry the lessons with me for the rest of my life. New friendships were made, new values instilled, and my identity reinforced. It is an honor to use such a gracious gift to experience the beautiful country of Israel.”