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We Found Love in A Holy Place

August 7, 2019 at 10:00 am
by Jenna Kay List 2013 Birthright Israel Alumna
Jenna and her husband Braden

Back in 2013, I received a call that I could go on Birthright Israel, and of course, I took the opportunity and booked my flight to NYC. I had never traveled alone, and the anxiety and excitement were outrageous. When my peers and I arrived at the airport the morning of our trip, we did a quick introduction, got a bite to eat and settled on the plane. Braden offered me the window seat and the rest is history…  

I never expected to meet someone special on the trip. I hoped I would make friends, but I had no idea the extent of it. Before my trip, I had only dated one Jewish guy. I never thought being with someone Jewish was important until I went on Birthright. I felt that if I wanted to attend synagogue or celebrate holidays, I could do this without a Jewish partner. But Judaism is more than religion to me – it’s values, culture, similarities and family traditions that make me see the importance now.

Braden and I had a life-changing trip and knew the love we had experienced over those 10 days was more than some have in a lifetime.  We decided to stay in Israel for another week and then started a long-distance relationship.  For nearly a full year, I was living in Denver, Colorado and Braden was in West Palm Beach, Florida. Finally, I took the plunge and moved to West Palm while Braden finished his master’s degree.  We lived there and participated in many temple sponsored events because we knew we owed it to our heritage and religion that we met in the first place. We helped run a soup kitchen and both sat on the board of our local NextGen chapter for the Jewish Federation. We were even welcomed to Charles Bronfman’s home to attend a fundraising event. 

Jenna and Braden's daughter Kaia

Braden proposed on Vail Mountain in February 2015. We married in Vail as well in August 2016 (one of my Bridesmaids was someone I met on Birthright). In the past 5 years, we have traveled to various places together, and it all started in seats next to each other on the flight to Israel! We can’t wait to take our family back to Israel as soon as possible. And after being told it may not be an easy road, we found on the first night of Hanukkah in 2017 that our dreams had come true and I was pregnant. “Birthright Baby”, Kaia List, was born August 4th, 2018 and we were overjoyed! 

“If I hadn’t gone on Birthright Israel, not a single part of my life would be the same.”

If I hadn’t gone on Birthright Israel, not a single part of my life would be the same. Being Jewish would not be as important to me. I would not have met my husband nor have our house, our daughter or this life. I wouldn’t be part of a community in Florida that love and support my family. I would never have the experiences that I’ve had or the open mind I carry with me each day. Braden and I now know the importance of our Jewish heritage because that too made our paths cross, and we are so thankful.

Jenna, Braden and Kaia

I can’t express enough how much I encourage every young Jewish person to go on this trip. My parents are both Jewish and have been heavily involved in Jewish life and community their whole lives, yet neither of them has had the opportunity to go to Israel. I know how life-changing it could be for them and I hope one day our family can experience our homeland together. It is so important for young people to see their heritage when it may not be in the forefront of their minds. Birthright Israel also shows young people how much other people care to keep our core values alive.  The fact that Jewish people donate their money so that other Jews can have this experience is incredible. 

I think it’s crucial in keeping Judaism alive and for people to make their own judgments and develop their own thoughts and opinions on the Middle East in general. When you land at Ben Gurion,  walk into the Holocaust Museum, pray at the Wall or walk through the shuk… the people you meet, the food you eat… everything feels like it’s meant to be.  I feel lucky to see my husband every day and still remember… Birthright made everything in my life the way it is, and it was “meant to be.”

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Jenna and her husband Braden
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