A few hours later we landed in Israel. After 20 long years I had returned to the place of my birth.
Now don’t get me wrong, I had visited and traveled around Israel since moving at the age of 6, but it had always been with family. Going with Taglit, specifically Mayanot, was more than just an adventure. It was life changing. When I look at my current life I know that I would never be the person I am without my trip to Israel. I know it is cliché to say this but… Birthright changed my life.
I went on Birthright a secular Israeli Jew, but after seeing students from all different backgrounds and upbringings united in the love of our shared heritage, religion, and most especially Israel, I left with a deep desire to explore my Judaism, and I longed for a connection with my Jewish heritage.
Our group was lucky enough to have the chance to celebrate two Shabbats, one in Tiberius and one at the Kotel, as well as the first half of Chanukah on the trip. I will never forget that first night of Chanukah, crushing into a cramped street in Old Jaffa lighting candles at some long unused synagogue. Singing the blessings over the candles and Shehecheyanu as strangers began joining us in a chorus of singing so loud I was certain the whole country could hear. The camera shook in my hand as I desperately tried to capture the experience, the singing, yelling, and laughing of my fellow Birthrighters. But the camera could do little to capture my emotions, the pride I felt for my religion, and for the amazingly strong Children of Israel who have fought tooth and nail to defend the Jewish State was astounding.
Since returning from Israel I have longed for the same spiritual high I felt in Jaffa. I joined Jewish groups, religious, secular, Israel advocacy, even the Jewish sorority. Israel sent me down a path to discover who I was and a deep desire to connect with the Holy Land once more. Israel lit a fire within my soul, a desire to keep the Jewish State alive in my every day and a deep yearning to return.