Growing up in Massachusetts, my family went to temple every so often. I started going less and…
For many of our more than 800,000 alumni, Birthright Israel is often the first independent Jewish decision they make. Some of our participants come to the experience with little connection to Judaism or Israel and some come to the experience with a hunger to learn more about their history, their homelands, and themselves. For 2008 alumnus, Aaron Leff, Birthright Israel was a next step in his newly discovered interest in being connected to the Jewish community.
Aaron grew up in Los Angeles and was raised in a Jewish household with customary traditions. It was during his college years that he decided to explore a Jewish connection by enrolling in a Jewish Literature class. While his original goal was to potentially meet “nice Jewish girls” something else happened. Aaron remembers “It definitely was the first time I felt drawn to Jewish culture on my own. So that laid some of that groundwork to being open to appreciating Israel.”
After graduating college and returning home to Los Angeles, Aaron was eager to begin his real estate career. Looking to make connections with colleagues and mentors in the field, Aaron got involved in the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Real Estate and Construction Division. “The whole goal was to network in my profession, but I ended up really enjoying it and liking the people and feeling passionate about the organization,” said Leff. “The Jewish Federation Los Angeles created this Birthright Israel trip called the LA Way, so I decided to go.”
And just like that, Aaron’s Birthright Israel journey began. “My trip was absolutely life-changing,” Aaron said when looking back on his experience. For Aaron, he can recall exactly what changed for him and how it happened. “The way I viewed Israel did a full 180. The biggest attribute I can pinpoint to that was the Mega Event.” Each season Birthright Israel gathers thousands of participants from dozens of countries for a Mega Event, a one-night concert, and celebration of their experience, Judaism, and the land of Israel.
Aaron was having an incredible time on his trip and when he heard his itinerary included a Mega Event, he thought the name and the concept were a little “cheesy”, but he went. ” And that night really changed my life because as opposed to viewing Israel as the home of the Western Wall or Masada, or just these old relics, it made me realize that this is this insanely special place. Not just because of its history, but because of its current state, bringing all these people to Israel throughout the diaspora together. All these people that are all the same, from all different parts of the world had this commonality, which is that Israel is our home,” he shared.
Thanks to Aaron’s existing relationship with the Jewish community, he came home from his Birthright Israel experience looking to continue and grow his involvement and one day return the favor to the community that gave him his Birthright Israel experience by staffing a trip. “I felt this incredible conviction to pay that forward and to give that to other people. I felt that I have this opportunity to change 45 people’s lives”, said Leff.
The journey hasn’t ended for Aaron since he last staffed. In fact, it has flourished. Today Aaron is a proud and active member of Birthright Israel Foundation’s Los Angeles Leadership Council. He not only is a supporter of the organization, paying his experience forward, he is also a lay leader working hard to motivate the Los Angeles community to support this life-changing experience. “Now that I have a family, all I want is for my daughter and soon-to-be son to go on this trip, and I very much recognize on a daily basis how Birthright changed my life, and I feel just absolutely convinced that Birthright is going to be the group that makes a massive fundamental change to the future of the Jewish community, not just throughout the diaspora, but for Israel,” he passionately shared.
Birthright Israel is more than just a 10-day trip. It is the spark that ignites a Jewish young adult’s personal Jewish journey, and the sky is the limit as to where it can take them. We are fortunate that Aaron is not only an alumnus of the program but has joined together with 40,000 donors in paying this gift forward for his children and ours alike.