I want to start this blog off by saying thank you to the people who made my trip all it was. I’d like to thank all the donors who made my trip to Israel possible. I’m truly blessed to have had this experience. Without the donations, I wouldn’t have had the most memorable experience I’ve had in my life.

Birthright Israel provided me with amazing friends, my first trip outside of the US, and even more reason to be proud of who I am as a Jew. Thank you so very much for allowing me to go on this fantastic journey. My trip leaders Avi Yusupov and Taylor Liebesmann and my tour guide Eli owe a huge thanks to them as well. All three of you ensured each person in my group had a once-in-a-lifetime journey. My last thank you is to everyone in my group, the trip wouldn’t have been as amazing as it was without all of you. I’m glad I get to call all 47 of you, my friends.

The entire Birthright Israel trip was magical, but Jerusalem was my favorite place. I’ll never forget our late night spent on the balcony of the hostel just talking with my group, our night out at Machane Yehuda Market (where I bought a silver necklace with my Hebrew name that I’ll wear forever), and the Old City (where I couldn’t believe I was walking on stone streets that were made before the common era).

Chloe and fellow Birthright Israel participants during their Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremony

The Western Wall was indeed a turning point and out-of-body experience for me. I had learned about the first and second temples and thought I could control my emotions…I was very wrong. When I walked up to the Wall, stuck my note in addressed to G-d, and laid my hands on the smooth stone, I was overcome with emotion and felt a single tear roll down my cheek. I stepped away after what seemed like a very long time and had a debrief of sorts with my friends.

When it was time to leave the Western Wall, we had thought this magical moment was coming to an end, but instead, we walked around to the part of the Wall you couldn’t go up to but could see ancient rubble and ruins at the base. We all sat down and thought we’d have an educational talk about the history of the temples. Instead, our tour guide, Eli called all of the people who had prepared their Bar and Bat Mitzvah speeches earlier in the week to the front.

I was genuinely not excited. I never went to Hebrew school, so my Hebrew is very bad. Speaking a foreign language in front of my peers, especially the ones who speak Hebrew scared me. Luckily, Eli just had the eight of us repeat after him altogether rather than each of us reciting the prayers individually. I had grown so close to the people that I couldn’t imagine not sharing this special moment with them.

Becoming a Bat Mitzvah in the holiest city with my special friends was worth the wait. The setting was beautiful, the people were beautiful, and it was about some extravagant party afterward. My Bat Mitzvah was about connecting with our religion in the holy land.

The city of Jerusalem is where I felt the closest to my religion, culture, heritage, and even my family back home who at the time were 6,200 miles away! The entire trip was a life-changing experience that I will hold dear to my heart for the rest of my life. Each second I spent on Birthright Israel I’ll remember forever.