Ever since I was a young girl, I always dreamed of going on Birthright Israel. Coming from a traditional and cultural Jewish background, my parents sent me to Jewish day school. Spending my summers at Ramah Nyack day camp since the age of 6, I knew the importance of learning about my Jewish heritage and embracing Jewish traditions. There was no better way to learn and embrace the Jewish culture than by taking part in a Birthright trip.
Going to a college with a large Jewish population was one of the boxes I had to check off when searching for the right fit. Muhlenberg College allowed me to bring Judaism into my daily life. As a Jewish Studies minor and an active participant in Jewish life on campus, I’m constantly surrounded by like-minded Jewish individuals.
While many people find it surprising, Birthright Israel was my first experience in Israel, and I could not have imagined it in any other way. Birthright allows you to embrace your Jewish heritage while teaching you about Jewish life and integrating you into Jewish culture. You cannot see all of Israel in one visit, however, Birthright gives you the chance to explore within 10 days.
Each experience was unique from one other, there were specific moments that enhanced my experience. Looking back at my journey, visiting Kotel was the most memorable and meaningful experience. When I was 9 years old, my maternal grandfather, who was in Israel with my grandmother for his 70th birthday, passed away in a hotel room overlooking the Kotel.
He was one of the most influential Jewish people as I was growing up and showed me the importance of Judaism. Being able to connect with my Jewish identity and my grandfather at this moment in time was incredibly moving. I will remember that moment for the rest of my life.
Another highlight of my trip was rafting on the Jordan River. I went with both of my college friends, Alexis and Hilary, and we were joined by three boys, all of whom I did not know before. One of them was one of the Israelis who joined us, Ido and the other two were Tufts students. One would think rafting down the Jordan River would be a relaxing experience, with a few giggles and screams here and there. I wanted to utilize every waking moment I had in Israel so I challenged myself to ask important questions during that ride. Hearing how different Jewish American teenagers live enhanced my knowledge of what it means to be a Jew in Israel.
Going on Birthright and having the opportunity to learn about Judaism from a lens that I was not familiar with before, will enhance my college experience and my life moving forward. As a Jewish studies Minor and active participant in Jewish life on my college campus, I know that the experiences and conversations that I had on Birthright will have an impact on my daily life. Birthright allowed my dream to come to life. While I have always immersed myself in Judaism, being Jewish in another country is challenging and contrastingly different from Israel.
Being exposed to many conversations about the future of Israel, I urge young Jewish adults to understand where Israel has been and the direction it is headed. The knowledge I have obtained is invaluable and unfortunately enlightened me to the severity of antisemitism throughout the world. I know we must start to get involved and for me, Birthright was the starting point. Now it’s time to begin your journey.
Brooke Leon of Fort Lee, 21, is majoring in media and communications and minoring in Jewish studies at Muhlenberg College.