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From Bat Mitzvah to Bar Mitzvah: One Man’s Journey with Birthright Israel

August 29, 2019 at 7:51 am
by Samuel Benji • Los Angeles, CA 2019 Birthright Israel Alumnus

This may be a bit cliché because everyone who goes on Birthright Israel seems to say this, but it is because it is true…Birthright was a life-changing experience. I have many memories that are going to stick with me for the rest of my life.

For example, getting to know all of the amazing people on my trip, walking in the Tel-Aviv Pride March, swimming in the beautiful clear blue waters next to the beaches of Tel Aviv, climbing Masada at sunrise, hiking near the Syrian and Lebanese borders, sleeping in Bedouin-style tents, and river rafting down the Jordan River. However, my absolute favorite memory was being a Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall and going to the men’s side of the Wall.

Here is a quote from my social media post that day:
“I had an absolutely amazing experience today. We had a symbolic Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremony at the Western Wall, for anyone who wanted to have one. I decided that this was an opportunity for me to continue my journey with my transition [as a transgender man]. Since I already had an official Bat Mitzvah when I was 13 I felt like this was my chance to correct it and officially start my Jewish journey into manhood. I expected the ceremony to be just something that I was going to do just because of the symbolism, but it became so much more than that thanks to the absolutely wonderful people that I was surrounded by.

These people have been my family for the past 10 days and I can’t even begin to explain how meaningful it was to have them supporting me throughout the day and this entire trip. I was [also] concerned about going to the Orthodox men’s side of the Western Wall due to the recent verbal harassment of a transgender person at the wall this past week. I debated back and forth for 4 or 5 days because I just didn’t know if I would be safe entering the area.

Finally, thanks to the amazing support system that I had from everyone in our group, I decided to go to the Orthodox men’s side of the Wall and I couldn’t be happier with my decision. This day, as a whole, has been so empowering for my identity as a trans man, a member of the LGBTQ[IA+] community, and a member of the Jewish community. Without these amazing people I never would have been able to accomplish what I did today. Thank you for your support!

I have told everyone that I have met up with since then about my experience. I explained how valuable the trip was in reexploring my lost Jewish roots and reaffirming my views on what a fantastic support system the LGBTQIA+ community can be. I highly recommend this trip to anyone that is considering the trip. Even if you are a bit hesitant, just go for it, you will thank yourself later!

Thank you to all the people who make this trip possible, you are changing lives! Continue doing the amazing work that you do so that many others have the opportunity to experience Israel like I did!

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