In summer 2021, I had the privilege to attend a Birthright Israel trip thanks to the generosity of Birthright Israel Foundation’s donors. However, before I can tell you all about how important this trip was and how it affected me, I should tell you about who I am, and what led me to participate in this adventure.

I grew up in Keene, New Hampshire. Not exactly a large Jewish community like Newton, but a quiet town with a small congregation. My Mom and Dad raised my siblings and me to be Jewish just like their parents. We spent the high holidays together, celebrated our Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, and learned the traditions of the Jewish people. Naturally, there would come a time when we would each have a chance to visit Israel. While my brother and sister were fortunate enough to travel through Camp Young Judea, I did not have that opportunity.

Every Dollar Counts! Donate today and help send a young Jewish adult ona life-changing trip to claim their birthright.
Every Dollar Counts! Donate today and help send a young Jewish adult ona life-changing trip to claim their birthright.

The years following my Bar Mitzvah, I felt less connected to my Jewish identity and to my religion. It was hard to be Jewish in my high school because I was surrounded by people that neither shared nor understood our beliefs. I didn’t attend a college with a large Jewish community either. I was too focused on attaining a degree in Finance and enjoying my newfound independence. By the time I entered the workforce, I felt so disconnected to my religion, that I barely felt Jewish. I was an outsider in my own congregation. It was at this point in my life that I was determined to reconnect, and so I signed up for Birthright Israel.

While signing up, I wasn’t thinking about going to a foreign country, or worried about the current tensions between Israel and Hamas; No, I was nervous about fitting in with the other people who attended. There would be young adults coming together from across the US, each with vastly different experiences, but all having ties to Judaism. I’ve heard the mantra about Birthright Israel, that you will make friends for life. Well, I’m here to tell you that visiting Israel will bond you to those in your group. All of my worries about fitting in with the people on the trip were quickly assuaged. Over the course of 10 days, we experienced a crash course in the history, the religion, the spirituality, and the identity of Israel.

Ethan Bettinger feeding a camel in the Negev on his 2021 Birthright Israel trip

I am grateful to be able to share my story. This trip has connected me to Israel in a way that was unimaginable when I first signed up. It tested my preconceived notions about Israel and those who live there. From hiking the Golan Heights to stargazing in the Negev desert, you get to witness the serene beauty of this world. Visiting Mt. Herzl and Yad Vashem reminds you how important it is for Israel to exist as an independent state. For me, the pinnacle of the trip was my visit to the Western Wall. Standing at the base, I felt a sense of pride as those prayed around me. A lifetime of memories overwhelmed my mind, as I reconnected with the faith of my family. I yearn to go back with my Birthright Israel group, visit my Israeli friends, and continue to explore the country that I never knew I’d fall in love with.

Today, I’m confident in my identity as a Jew and as a spokesperson for Israel. Thank you, to everyone who donates to Birthright Israel Foundation. Each person who donated provided the support I needed to reconnect to this community again. Your generosity gave me, and over 750,000 other young Jews, a chance to make memories and to discover who they are as Jewish people. I am forever changed by this experience. My relationship with Israel and the Jewish people is now cemented as a cornerstone of my personality. Never again will I take my Jewish identity and my own life for granted. I’m humbled by the Birthright Israel experience and hope to always keep these memories close to my heart.

I’d also like to thank my parents for their support and encouragement throughout my life.