Judaism has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. I grew up in Englewood, New Jersey and attended a Jewish day school my entire life. The significance of Israel was something I’ve been learning about since first grade and my family and many childhood friends travelled to Israel with their families at least once before college. Lucky for me, I even had my bar-mitzvah in Israel! (Yes, we still have the basketball t-shirts that say “I had a ball at Corey Dicker’s Bar Mitzvah Israel 2005.”) I also chose to spend the year before college in Israel on a gap year program at Bar-Ilan University.

I was beyond fortunate to have had incredible, immersive and educationally-oriented experiences in Israel before I even stepped foot on campus as a freshman at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Because I had always learned about Israel, I always knew about Birthright Israel… I just did not yet understand the program’s impact on the Jewish community.  

“I started to notice more faces in Hillel after Birthright, and the trip even gave UMass Hillel some of its strongest student leaders. I witnessed these trips happen, and I knew they were effective.”

On campus at UMass, I recognized and appreciated the diverse backgrounds of my friends, peers and classmates. I spent time with like-minded individuals and learned about the types of communities they came from. I slowly started to understand what different Jewish communities looked like across North America. Before I knew it, I saw countless friends and classmates leave for Birthright Israel and return to campus more passionate about Judaism and Israel than ever before. One after another, they all had the same experience: incredible, educational, and life-changing. I started to notice more faces in Hillel after Birthright, and the trip even gave UMass Hillel some of its strongest student leaders. I witnessed these trips happen, and I knew they were effective. I also knew I needed to learn more. Although I could not apply as a participant, I connected with Israel Outdoors and applied as a staff member for my first Birthright Israel trip. In the summer of 2014, I met 40 college students and my co-counselor at the airport and boarded the flight to Ben Gurion.

When we landed in Israel, we connected with our Israeli peers, the Israeli soldiers who joined our journey. I loved seeing Jewish people from across the United States and Israel, who have never met each other before, connect over our shared Jewish values, history, culture, and homeland.

The participants trusted me as a role model to lead discussions. We would look forward to the time between activities when we could sit together and share our thoughts, backgrounds and experience. Because of my previous experiences in Israel, I was able to assist our tour guide with logistics and also leverage what I learned as a camp counselor to keep the group together socially. It was hands down one of the coolest opportunities of my life. These were my peers—my classmates, friends, future colleagues, future board members, and more.

During this experience, I gained a deeper appreciation for experiential education and the fact that being in Israel (or running on the Tel Aviv promenade, hiking the Golan, swimming in the Kinneret, floating in the Dead Sea, praying at the Kotel or wherever you may be) makes it easier to learn and talk about Israel. Being in that magical place allows a group—of any age or background—to fully understand its importance.

For ten days, we lived the value Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Lazeh—”All of Israel Are Responsible for One Another.” We remembered the importance of caring for one another even when someone’s daily life is so much different than your own. Birthright Israel broadened my views of Judaism, Israel, connections and community.

Being a staff member on this trip took the leadership qualities and experience that I’ve developed over time and provided me with an experience to take these skills further into the Jewish community and my professional life. Without hesitation, I reapplied the next year and staffed my second trip in the summer of 2015. My co-counselor turned out to be one of my closest friends and even introduced me to my girlfriend!

I wish I could personally thank every donor who makes Birthright Israel possible. This fall, I had the opportunity to attend the Birthright Israel Excel Shabbat Dinner in Manhattan with my girlfriend and peers from the Birthright Israel Foundation Young Leadership Council. At the dinner, we had the opportunity to sit with members of Birthright Israel Foundation’s Board of Directors and share personally what Birthright Israel meant to each of us. I will always cherish the opportunity to thank the incredible leaders who invest in the next generation of Jewish leaders by making this life-changing experience possible. I can assure you that Birthright Israel changes lives. Its impact lasts well beyond those 10 days.

Corey was born and raised in New Jersey and currently lives in Manhattan where he works as an associate at Avison Young, a commercial real estate services firm. He is heavily involved in his Jewish community, serving as a bar/bat mitzvah tutor, a member of Birthright Israel Foundation’s NYC Young Leadership Council and volunteers with the UJA Young Leaders Community Committee.