Alumnus Mike Boulrice did not discover his Jewish heritage until adulthood and through Birthright Israel’s targetted advertising, learned of the trip’s pilot program for 27-32-year-olds. Mike quickly signed up, despite opposition on social media for traveling to Israel, and began a deep dive into his Jewish heritage.

Q&A with Mike Boulrice

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

Mike Boulrice: “When I was 28 my brother discovered we had an unknown half-sister on my father’s side via a DNA test. I decided that I wanted to know more about my family’s ancestry and decided to take a DNA test of my own. I had expected my results to show European ancestry on my father’s side and some mixture of indigenous American/Iberian ancestry on my mother’s side as she was born in Mexico. While I did have a mixture of western European and indigenous American DNA in my results, I was also identified as having 20% Sephardic Jewish ancestry and 5% Levant ancestry. This was a surprise to my family as this was not something that my mother or relatives had any anticipation of.

After some discussion, I discovered my grandfather was raised in a rural community in Mexico with close ties to the local indigenous population, while my grandmother’s history was relatively unknown as she ran away from home at the age of 12 and married my grandfather at age 14. Without much knowledge of Jewish traditions or culture beyond my impressions from my Christian upbringing, historical studies, and popular culture, I wanted to connect with my Jewish ancestry on a personal level. Luckily I came across a Facebook ad that promoted a pilot Birthright Israel program that extended the age range to 30. From here, I signed up.”

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

Mike Boulrice: “I knew little about the Israeli political climate from a western perspective and had seen some divestment protests while attending university, but I was mostly interested in exploring the cultural and religious sites of three of the world’s major religions. When I announced my trip to Israel on social media, I was surprised by some of the opposition to the trip I had received. I made a note of it and decided that I would go to Israel with an open mind and heart but also question anything that didn’t make sense.”

Sample 10 Day Itinerary: See how a typical Birthright Israel trip comes to life and how it unites young Jewish adults from all over the world with the people, history, and land of Israel.
Sample 10 Day Itinerary: See how a typical Birthright Israel trip comes to life and how it unites young Jewish adults from all over the world with the people, history, and land of Israel.

Did you grow up with a connection to your Jewish identity?

Mike Boulrice: “No. In fact, I didn’t personally know a person with Jewish heritage until I went to university.”

What was your biggest takeaway from the trip?

Mike Boulrice: “The profound feeling of connection and belonging that I experienced in an alien land. I expected to be enthralled by the culture shock, amazed by the historical architecture, and enamored with the beauty of the land, but I never expected that the people themselves would be the highlight of the trip. The Israeli people shared an openness to engage in deep, meaningful conversation in good faith about topics that have become too provocative in the United States. I walked away from those conversations enlightened with not only a new perspective but also a feeling that the person was invested in what I had to say and thought.”

How has Birthright Israel played a role in your life since coming home from the trip?

Mike Boulrice: “I now have a group of close friends I feel that I can reach out to when navigating and exploring my Jewish heritage. I’ve used the trip and what I have learned to bring back knowledge of traditions to my mostly Christianized family. I wear my Magen David proudly, keep up on news stories impacting Israel, and confront disinformation on social media regarding Israel and the Jewish people when necessary.”

2022 Birthright Israel participant Mike Boulrice becoming a Bar Mitzvah on top of Masada

Are you involved more in your Jewish community because of your Birthright Israel trip?

Mike Boulrice: “Yes. I feel a stronger connection to the Jewish community at large and to the friends I’ve made from this trip. I feel less inhibited connecting with fellow Jews that I meet and look for opportunities to further my engagement with the local community.”

If you could meet the donor who made your trip possible, what would you say to them?

Mike Boulrice: “Before my trip, I had no knowledge of the traditions of the Jewish People. I did not know the words of the Shema prayer, nor did I celebrate Shabbat, but now I do. I learned during my Bar Mitzvah celebrated on this trip, in the Jewish Fortress of Masada, that I was born on Rosh Hashanah. In the Haftarah and Maftir portion of my Torah reading, God promises the Jewish people that an ‘ingathering of exiles’ will take place in a time to come. Therefore, I would like to thank you for being the force to have given me the opportunity to have that promise fulfilled.”

Tell us about yourself!

Mike Boulrice: “I’m an IT Systems Administrator currently residing in San Diego, CA. I spend most of my free time outdoors, exploring and engaging in physical activities like kayaking and archery. My current goal is to return to Israel to participate in the Jerusalem Marathon and to complete the Israel National Trail next year.”