You may have heard us say this before: Birthright Israel is strengthening the Jewish future. But…
Birthright Israel Foundation is thrilled to bring you another inspiring Atlanta donor story. It will make you proud of your community and excited about the Jewish future. We had the pleasure of speaking with long-time supporter and native Atlantan Viki Freeman from her summer home in Aspen, CO. It was only the night before she attended the first-ever Birthright Israel Foundation Aspen gathering. She was pleased to hear from alum and board member Rachel Gerrol and Israeli alum Shavit Rootman.
Hours after the event, Viki was still in awe over Rachel’s testimony on how Birthright Israel changed her life — something many people think is cliché. Viki, a convert to Judaism, felt a personal connection to Rachel, who grew up in an interfaith home and knew little about her Jewish identity until her trip in 2000. Stories like Rachel’s are only part of why Viki has dedicated her philanthropic efforts to Birthright Israel Foundation.
Why have you made Birthright Israel one of your top philanthropic priorities?
Viki Freeman: “The very first time I heard about Birthright Israel was when I was on the board at the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. The Federation supported the initiative, and I also had the pleasure of attending the Adelson mission to Vegas, where we heard from Sheldon and Miri about their vision for the program. I was lucky to meet many people involved with Birthright, and many of my peers thought it was great! Even on the way to the Aspen event, we were speaking to the bellman, Jeremy, who said he got back from Israel, and of course, he was on a Birthright Israel trip. Jeremy wanted to travel, and the Birthright Israel trip was so inviting. When he returned, I could tell he was so excited about his trip experiences. He told me these experiences have made him think differently than ever before. It was just another reminder why supporting this program matters.”
Why should others support the Birthright Israel program?
Viki Freeman: “I go back to Rachel’s story. It changed her life and her sibling’s life, reintroduced her dad to Judaism, and now they’re one big happy Jewish family. It was a process, especially for someone coming with little connection to Judaism or the Jewish people. As a long-time convert, I was someone who grew up with Jewish and non-Jewish friends, I could still relate to her despite my different story.
Shavit also left a mark on me. Birthright helped him realize he is paving the way for the Jewish future and filling in the gaps between Diaspora Jews and Israelis. He was very passionate and inspirational as well. From their stories, I came away with two different points of view about how Birthright Israel touches people in different ways. The program is meeting young people wherever they are, which is important in today’s world. This is why others should support the program.”
Tell us about your daughter’s experience on Birthright Israel.
Viki Freeman: “My youngest daughter was fortunate to go on an Atlanta Birthright Israel trip. She came away with a fine-tuned appreciation for where Israel is located and how honorable Israel is given its geographical location. I know what she experienced on the trip will be carried with her throughout her life.”
You are hosting an upcoming event for Birthright Israel Foundation. What do you hope guests take away?
Viki Freeman: “I would like for people to understand that Birthright Israel is meeting so many of the needs of our young people. Birthright Israel is bridging the gap between America and Israel at a time when so many can be blasé to Israel. I want Atlanta to understand the importance of having a program for young Jewish adults that meets their needs. We have participants from every background. Birthright Israel is taking them from wherever they are in life, whether they can afford a trip like this or not, or are affiliated with the community or not, and welcoming them into the Jewish people with open arms. The trip gives them an opportunity to connect with others and find a sense of belonging both in Israel and when they return to our Atlanta community.”
How do you think Birthright Israel impacts the local Atlanta community?
Viki Freeman: “Wherever young people come to the table, I’m hoping they get turned on and it will show them how they can make a difference in our community. They need to continue to bridge the gap between Atlanta and Israel. I am passionate, and I’m one of these people, and I wasn’t always able to speak up. When I first got involved, I was at a Federation event, where Rabbi Brad Hirschfield divided the room per family roots. I said, ‘Oh, you know what, I don’t have any family roots; where am I supposed to be?’ I had to create my own roots. I didn’t have family from Poland or Russia, so I was having a hard time with that, and he made me feel so comfortable about fitting in. I no longer wondered where. He said to me you make your own way, you are meant to be here. And I’ll never forget that. That example of how the community met me where I was, gave me the courage to speak up. Birthright Israel does the same thing and can change people’s lives. It meets people where they are and lifts them up. As donors, we are paying it forward, especially if they stay in Atlanta.”
Atlanta’s annual fundraising goal is $2 million dollars to benefit young Jews. Do you trust your community can meet this goal?
Viki Freeman: “We have a lot of people in Atlanta that are blessed with good fortune, and we just need to keep meeting them and showing them what Birthright Israel is capable of doing.”