My love for Judaism was ignited at my Bar Mitzvah, and the candle has stayed aflame since that day. It…
Coming from a mixed family, with what many might call an unorthodox Jewish upbringing, I’m probably the last person you’d expect to dedicate my professional and much of my personal life to advocating for the Jewish people and Israel.
I grew up with a very unaffiliated Jewish father, a Chinese-American mother, and an uber-liberal, atheist Jewish grandmother. I always knew I had a mixed Chinese and Jewish identity. Although, I couldn’t explain what that even meant. I even experienced antisemitism. I knew it was hurtful but unsure exactly why or what had even happened to cause someone to do something antisemitic.
It wasn’t until college that I began to really dive into my Jewish roots. My natural first step was Hillel, which led me to go on my Birthright Israel trip.
I missed out on so much of the average American Jewish life throughout my childhood. Things like Jewish camp, synagogue, and youth group activities were foreign to me. I often felt behind my Jewish peers and not “Jewish enough.” I didn’t know common Jewish songs and prayers, I didn’t have a Bat Mitzvah, and I hardly “did” Jewish the way I felt many around me had done so growing up.
However, none of this stopped me from feeling a connection to Judaism and Israel — a country I had never visited before. This was both confusing and sometimes disheartening to experience.
But, my Birthright Israel trip was one of the first experiences that changed all of this for me.
Your First Jewish Memory
On my trip, our leader asked us, “What is your first Jewish memory?.” I panicked. I wasn’t sure how to answer the question and feared others would have much more robust and early Jewish memories than I had. Luckily, I was paired up with one of our Israeli soldiers. He raised his hand and said, “I don’t understand the question.” For him, a Jewish person living his entire life in the Jewish country — every memory felt Jewish.
In Israel, I discovered a society where it was no longer about how much you did or did not “do Jewish.” It was about being Jewish in every moment of your life, every fiber of your being.
Walking paths through ancient Jewish sites, touching the stones of the Kotel, swimming in the Dead Sea, and most importantly, engaging with Israeli society helped me discover that being Jewish is not a contest of all the things I can or cannot do. It isn’t something to be turned on and off, depending on where one is.
We are all totally and completely Jewish by the simple virtue of existing as Jewish humans.
Birthright Israel was the Spark!
Fast forward through a few years of pro-Israel activism on my college campus, a Masa Israel program, Aliyah, and a 6-year stint in Israel later, and it’s safe to say that Birthright Israel was the spark that ignited my neverending love affair with Israel.
Today, I spend every single day advocating for Israel and the Jewish people online. However, with rising antisemitism, this proves to be extremely difficult. As we scroll through our news feeds, it seems that antisemitism and anti-Israel hatred will never cease to exist. It can take such a negative toll on us. I see the adverse effects it has had on me. Through my social media channels, I can interact with other young Jewish people struggling with similar feelings.
Positive Activism & Spreading Jewish Joy
According to the Journal of Neuroscience: The longer your brain holds on to a negative event, no matter how minor, the more likely you’ll be to dismiss positive experiences. As we scroll through antisemitic incidents after antisemitic incidents, we can feel like our Jewishness is something negative. It becomes a burden instead of the immense joy it is for us.
That is why I’ve changed the way I do activism, and it is something I tell other young Jews every day. Our activism and outspokenness must come from a place of positivity, proactivity, and knowledge. We must share the love and joy of being Jewish, we must share it proactively and not just in reaction to antisemitism, and we must learn about our people, history, land, and traditions.
Through this positive form of activism, we feel more empowered to not only rise above antisemitism but to share our Jewish joy with the world.
I thank those who give to Birthright Israel Foundation for providing me the gift of one of the most positive and meaningful Jewish experiences a young Jewish person can have. Without my Birthright Israel experience, I would most definitely not be the Jewish woman I am today or able to do the work I do.