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Birthright Israel Was My First Journey In Recovery

August 27, 2019 at 9:01 am
by Rachel Kessler • New York, NY 2015 Birthright Israel Alumna
Rachel Kessler in the Dead Sea

I grew up in a small Jewish community in Northern California, where I had a broken relationship with my Judaism. After my Bat Mitzvah, I didn’t see any reason to continue with the Jewish community. I knew about Birthright Israel, but it was never something that I was interested in doing. After I became sober, I began to explore what my higher power looked like. I was so excited when I learned about a sober Birthright Israel trip and immediately applied.

When I was in Israel, I was less than a year sober. Birthright Israel filled a major need in my life at the time. The entire experience was life-changing.

“Birthright Israel was my first journey in recovery, and I saw my world through a brand-new lens.”

While in Jerusalem on Shabbat, we visited the Kotel where I watched the women praying and dancing so joyfully. I was intrigued seeing a glimpse into something I usually did not associate with Judaism. And in Tel Aviv, I was moved seeing Israeli flags – a strong sense of pride – in all the windows. I felt special to be a part of the Jewish people, where there I understood that people do not take their life for granted. At the place I was in my recovery, it could have been so easy for me to see myself in a catastrophe where things were over for me. To see the community in Israel that often lives in fear for their lives and existence still be happy and living so fully helped me to see the big picture. It put my life and sobriety into perspective. Birthright Israel was my first journey in recovery, and I saw my world through a brand-new lens.

I stayed a few days extra after my Birthright Israel experience and celebrated my one-year anniversary of sobriety in Tel Aviv with friends from the trip. Before recovery, I felt different and like I didn’t belong. Because of Birthright Israel, I blended Judaism with a sense of community, a major life moment for me.

After I returned home, I chose to study substance abuse counseling and at the same time, I sought out Jewish community through school where I lived in Texas. And when it was time for my next step in life, I chose New York because of its large Jewish community. Through all of this, I kept in touch with other participants from my trip and continually asked my group’s Trip Organizer about staffing a Birthright Israel Twelve Step Recovery group. I knew that I needed to return to Israel and reclaim the same community and spirit I built when I was a participant. The Trip Organizer gave me an important role as an interviewer of prospective participants, where I connect with Jewish people from all over the United States and Canada. This has allowed me to connect spiritually by contributing to the Jewish community.

This past summer, I served as a staff member on the Twelve Step Recovery group. I was able to support and be there for the participants who experienced similar emotions to what I felt as a participant. I supported them through their firsts, validated their experiences, listened to their story, related to them, and learned from them. This gave me so much spiritually and mentally. I am beyond proud to be a leader in this big community where I can now serve as a mentor to this summer’s participants and discuss bringing Judaism home as part of their life personally, in addition to helping them navigate other day to day situations. This fall I will begin graduate school for social work.

My choice to take a chance and claim my birthright with the Twelve Step group early in my recovery played a significant role in where I am today. Through my participant experience, I learned how to integrate having fun in recovery and becoming comfortable as I am, and most of all, showing pride in my Jewish identity.

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Rachel Kessler in the Dead Sea