My journey with this organization started way before my Birthright Israel trip. As a Persian Jew growing up in Beverly Hills, I was raised Jewish and surrounded by a Jewish community. For all my life, my parents had instilled a Jewish value system in me, but I didn’t really know what my true Jewish identity meant — I had never really defined it for myself.

But then, going into college, I became much less connected to my Jewish identity, especially as I tried to push back against my parents’ wishes. It wasn’t until I got involved with UCLA Hillel on campus that I met many other Jewish peers and started to recognize that I’m making my own choice to be Jewish. I was like a lost bagel that finally found its place in the basket.

Through Hillel, I went on UCLA’s Birthright Israel trip, which was an unbelievable experience that connected me, for the first time really, to Israel and a true Jewish identity. Birthright was this life-changing experience for me because not only did I build some super close friendships still to this day, but it really exposed me to the hardships that Jews and Israelis have faced in keeping Israel a nation over the last 75 years.

Birthright Israel taught me firsthand some of the core Jewish values that I was raised on, such as bouncing back despite enormous pressure and not being intimidated in the face of a Goliath. The impact of Birthright extended way beyond the 10-day program itself, where I think out of my trip of 30 or so students, HALF decided they wanted to spend a summer in Israel! That’s right, folks, it’s not just a trip. It’s a gateway drug to a lifelong addiction to hummus and falafel.

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.

I personally ended up going on the Birthright Israel Excel program the following summer, which was this incredible summer internship in Tel Aviv that made you feel like a local and really experience the Israeli economy, creating a lifelong bond with Israel. So this 10-day Birthright trip really had tremendous second-order effects. What stood out to me was the relationships I was able to develop with Israeli soldiers — these soldiers were roughly my age and surprisingly similar to us — we would bond over games of cards or who our favorite NBA player is, but in reality, they were making us feel like Israel is our home too. I have to eternally thank the Israeli soldier who introduced me to Hakosem!

I think I was genuinely shocked at how impactful a 10-day trip could really be — going in as a college student, you just hear “free trip to Israel,” and your ears start to perk up — but I’ve since come to recognize that this may truly be the highest ROI Jewish cause that I know of. Overnight, your worldview of Israel and your Jewish identity are changed through these deep relationships, and more importantly, you feel a real connection to Israel as “the homeland” unlike anything ever described to you before.

Why do I think it’s a super high ROI?

Josh Kahlili and fellow Birthright Israel participants

For $4,500, this 10-day trip in the prime years of identity shaping for a young adult, 18 to 26, can result in a lifelong Jew and one that influences many other friends to go on Birthright Israel and be Jewish as well. I’ve seen this happen firsthand to my half-Jewish roommate and many more “Jew-ish” friends, who heard lots of praise from me, went on Birthright, fell in love with Israel, and now relish Shabbats or holiday traditions while wanting to raise a Jewish family. That’s insane! 10 DAYS — and it completely changes your life trajectory! The problem, though, is that 20,000 young Jewish adults are waiting to go…

I’ve always believed in giving back, and that especially applies to Jewish causes — because if we don’t support our own kind, who else will? We must give back to ensure the future of the Jewish people, especially with the scary antisemitic rhetoric out there today. With every young Jew who participates in Birthright Israel, we are learning how to stand up to antisemitism in true Israeli fashion — with no fear! So I urge you all to give back to the highest ROI Jewish charity, Birthright Israel Foundation, so we can continue the strong identity of our Jewish people.