How My Birthright Experience Helped Shape My Identity
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Politics and Activism

How My Birthright Experience Helped Shape My Identity

My experience on Birthright was only the beginning of my life long love for Israel and being Jewish.

How My Birthright Experience Helped Shape My Identity

I grew up hearing about how I should feel connected, and be connected, to the Land of Israel. And I didn’t understand what that connection really was until I traveled to Israel in January. Even now, I can’t really describe it.

I grew up in Hebrew school classes where my teachers told me that because of my religion, I was a part of this land and had a right to this country. But I wasn’t born there, had never been there and didn’t really understand why that was and why I still felt like I had some connection.

As I got older, more and more of my camp friends started to take trips to Israel. They were coming back more connected to their Judaism. And here I was, just trying to stay afloat in this ocean we call Judaism. I didn’t know who I was as a person, let alone who I was in relation to that ocean. All I knew was that being Jewish was some huge aspect of my identity, that I just didn’t understand yet.

So I listened to my friends’ stories, and I saw their Facebook albums, and all I wanted was to go to Israel., I wanted to feel that connection and figure out how this country fit into who I was as a person. It seemed as though all my friends had figured that out while they were in Israel. Something magical was happening there, and I wanted to be a part of it.

I continued to go to camp, and I continued to hear those stories. And, I tried, really hard, to figure out who I am. And I did, in a way at least. Camp helped. I knew being Jewish was important to me, but I didn’t really know how to do that.

I had heard a lot about Birthright, and I wanted to go. Upon starting my freshman year and finding out that Ithaca offered a Birthright trip, I got this idea in my head, Maybe I really could go. And then, the next thing I knew I was registered, and I was going t Israel.

I was going to Israel, and after two days of traveling I was there. California to Israel isn’t a short trip. I was tired, I was cranky, and I was feeling overwhelmed. But, as soon as I stepped out of the airport, I felt a sense of calm. Maybe it was artificial, and maybe it happened because I expected it, but looking back, I remember that sense of being home. For a moment, I wasn’t anxious about what was to come.

The next few days were filled with hiking, long bus rides and new friends, but also deep reflection and new experiences. There was the typical trip to the Dead Sea, a Jeep tour of the Golan Heights and a trip to Tzfat (in the Golan region), among so many other things.

And then there was the new family I made on the trip. It’s weird to say, but those 40-plus people became like a family. We spent a lot of time together. They were always there, and when something got a little tough for one of us, there were about 40 other people to lift you back up. And I think that’s one of the greatest things about Birthright. Everyone is there experiencing the same things, but in very different ways.

It got to a point where I just kind of expected the music to play loudly in the back of the bus. It was the little moments when we had mini-dance parties as a whole bus in our seats on one of those long bus rides that meant the most.

But by far, there are two moments on my Birthright trip that stand out the most. First, was yet another bus ride. I think, pretty early in the trip, when our tour guide was telling us a story about the IDF. It was a moment of intense emotion. One where I just had to sit back and “feel the feels.” But really, it was a key moment on my trip. It was the first time I understood what the IDF does and why they continue to fight while they’re sleep deprived and in less than ideal conditions. They fight, because when they turn around, they see their backyard.

For some, that moment of intense emotion happens at the Western Wall, at Yad Vashem (the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem), on a hike of the Golan Heights or in Tzfat. But, for me that moment happened on a bus, on a rainy, wet day, somewhere in Israel.

The second of those truly meaningful moments occurred in the streets of Jerusalem. It was a Friday afternoon, so naturally, everyone was getting ready for Shabbat, and people were so happy. They were playing loud music, they were shouting, they were dancing, and it was snowing. In that moment, when I was dancing hand-in-hand with a few of my closest friends on the trip, I fell in love. Not with a person and not with a country, but with a culture. A culture so rich and beautiful, all I wanted was to stay there and experience it forever.

It wasn’t a moment in Israel when, I suddenly realized who I am and who I’m going to be, it happened over time, once I was home. It was a slow process, but my trip solidified my love for Israel. And I found something I was passionate about. It helped me fit in a piece of the puzzle that I couldn’t quite fit before. Being Jewish is a key piece of my identity, and so is the State of Israel. Israel connected me to my Judaism.

So when people ask me why I love Israel so much, I guess my answer is that I feel like I owe it something. Israel helped me figure out who I was. It helped me grow in ways I didn’t think possible. And, I will forever be thankful for that.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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