Birthright. Your friend, your cousin, your friend's cousin, they all went on Birthright and raved about how amazing and life changing it was. Well.....
I know, it sounds so cliche but my experience on Birthright truly did change my life. Now, it wasn't in some crazy, profound way that makes me want to be an Orthodox Jew or make me want to live in Jerusalem, but it strengthened my Jewish identity.
I grew up in a 2 Jewish-parent household, (which these days is hard to come by) and attended a formal Jewish education on Sundays and Tuesdays where I learned to read Hebrew and recite prayers. I was bat mitzvahed at 13 and confirmed at 17 while going to Jewish camp and participating in BBYO along the way. In my adult life, I find myself at Hillel often and connecting with Jews on campus. But I still felt "Jew-ish".
I went on Taglit-Birthright with Mayanot, a trip provider associated with Chabad. At first, I was nervous that this trip would be all about religion and converting us into Orthodox Jews. It turned out to be quite the opposite. People who even barely considered themselves Jewish took this "free trip" and came out more connected to their faith than ever.
One moment I felt exceptionally at home with my Jewish identity was on Shabbat evening at the Kotel (Western Wall). The Kotel is one of the holiest and most visited sites in Jerusalem where people from all over the world come to pray. Looking at an entire wall separated by gender, with women dressed in their finest and prayer books in hand, touching the wall and praying might seem intimidating. I embraced it and joined in, placing both of my hands on the wall. I expected to feel nothing, but as I closed my eyes, I suddenly felt connected to all of the women in the area and all of those who had been there before. It's crazy, but in that moment, I felt more connected to my Jewish heritage and the Jewish people than ever before. After I gave up my spot on the wall, I joined the other girls from our group, where we joined other Birthright groups and began singing and dancing to welcome Shabbat. At that moment I felt as though I've never belonged anywhere more.
Of course, other highlights of the trip included meeting our Israeli soldiers, rafting on the Jordan river, clubbing in Tel Aviv, swimming in the Mediterranean and Dead Sea(s), hiking Masada, staying in Bedouin tents... the list goes on. But the sense of belonging and feeling at home in a foreign country half way across the world is something that cannot be overlooked. 10 days turn 50 strangers into a family (#937).
If you are Jewish or even "Jew-ish", I urge you to consider the gift that is Birthright. Mayanot is an amazing provider and I would recommend traveling through them. They gave me best friends that will last a lifetime, a knowledgeable and friendly staff and a life changing trip.
I now wear my Hebrew name proudly on my neck, along with an opal Hamsa, which keeps me connected to Israel wherever I go.
Below is a short video wrapping up the trip I just took! Take a look.
If you like this video and want more information, check out mayanotisrael.com and use my name, Abigail Solomon, as the person who referred you so they know you talked to me as your Mayanot rep!