When did you go on Birthright Israel?

In December 2011 and I remember we were lucky enough to celebrate the remaining nights of Hanukkah while on the trip – it was so memorable!

Birthright Israel Foundation has given this gift to over 700,000 young Jewish adults from all different backgrounds and walks of life, what is your Jewish background?

I grew up in a reform household with two Jewish parents, and we went to temple on the High Holidays. I always look forward to the major Jewish holidays, especially Passover since we have a huge family Seder with 40 plus people!

Samantha and her Birthright Israel group
Samantha with fellow Birthright Israel participants

Why did you want to go on Birthright Israel?

All of my friends had been going and telling me about their experiences and sharing their pictures and memories – I felt remiss and definitely had a bit of FOMO that I didn’t have the same journey. So, when I was accepted, I was counting the minutes until I left!

What was the biggest takeaway from your Birthright Israel trip?

Learning more than I ever could about my Jewish culture and heritage! I am named after my grandpa, Sam Berger (my name is Samantha Brooke) who fled Eastern Europe during the Holocaust and knowing more about my heritage and culture and witnessing the strength of my ancestors inspired me to be a strong Jewish woman. I know he’d be proud.

You had ten incredible days in Israel, what was your favorite part?

The Western Wall! People were crying, praying, hugging, and dancing – my time there felt so happy yet peaceful and symbolic. From the moment I approached the Wall, I couldn’t stop crying, no one on my trip could stop crying, including my Birthright Israel bestie, Haley Winer (pictured below). Once the tears stopped, we realized we were in the holiest place in the world, on Shabbat!

Highlights from Samantha's trip
A few photos from Samantha’s trip

Why did you choose to join Birthright Israel Foundation’s Young Leadership Council?

After the Tree of Life (L’Simcha Congregation) shooting Pittsburgh I felt that I needed to do something. I was getting calls and texts from friends asking me if I knew what to do. I don’t know what came over me, but being in PR, I just started emailing and calling contacts trying to organize some sort of fundraiser to help give back and support the victims. Through my outreach, I contacted Birthright Israel, which started a larger conversation about ways to help Jews all over the world. Supporting my fellow peers and young Jewish adults everywhere by giving them the gift of Birthright Israel allows them to learn and love their culture. I truly believe that if we can share even a fraction of what we learn on Birthright Israel, perhaps we can begin to create a world with less hate and more understanding.

What are your goals or dreams for the Young Leadership Council in the coming year?

I hope to help the mission of Birthright Israel Foundation and continue to educate and empower young Jewish people by providing them with enlightening experiences through the gift of a Birthright Israel trip. For example, my brother is four years younger than I am and he left the trip with a lot of the same meaningful takeaways that I did. If we continue to grow the program, more young Jewish people will have these experiences and, in turn, give back to our community and nurture the next generation. Birthright Israel is the gift that keeps on giving!

Samantha Wenig is currently the Vice President of London Misher Public Relations in NYC. Wenig oversees an array of corporate lifestyle accounts including fashion & beauty, health & wellness, entertainment, real estate, non-profit and hospitality clients as well as numerous high profile events. After her Birthright Israel trip in 2011, she joined the executive board of Maccabi Young Leadership (under the Maccabi World Union umbrella) as the Director of Social Media and Special Events for three and a half years. Wenig resides in Manhattan and hopes her next trip to Israel will be as memorable as her first.