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Keeping An Open Heart On Birthright Israel

October 2, 2019 at 7:46 am
by Thomas Steinhart • San Francisco, CA 2019 Birthright Israel Alumnus
Thomas Steinhart, 2019 Birthright Israel Alumnus

When I was in my late twenties, I considered going to Birthright Israel but unfortunately did not have the time to make the trip. When representatives from the organization told me earlier this year that the age limit had increased to 32, I decided to sign up for a trip in July, not wanting to miss another chance.

Growing up in a secular household, I never really knew much about my Jewish heritage. I went to Hillel a few times in college for Shabbat but didn’t really know the meaning behind most of the prayers. It felt like I was an outsider looking in, unable to find a group where I belonged. I considered Birthright Israel as an opportunity to understand more about Judaism and find a connection with my roots.

I never expected just how much of an impact the trip would have on me.

In ten days, our group traveled throughout Israel and saw a fraction of all the amazing things the country has to offer. Our nature hikes were filled with beautiful scenery, and the cities had so much life during the day! I made connections with my fellow Birthrighters that led to meaningful conversations I would not often have back home. We learned so much about Israel’s past and present from our tour guide and staff members and felt comfortable asking them anything. It’s been about two months now, and we’re all still connected via a group chat on Whatsapp.

Out of all the activities we did, what will stick with me the most is the trip to the Western Wall and having a Bar Mitzvah on Masada at dawn. The Western Wall in Jerusalem is just that, a wall. But it’s also a place where people can gather and feel that deep connection to their roots, whether historical or religious. Just placing my hand on the wall is an experience I will never forget. When we hiked up Masada to see the sunrise, we were given a chance to have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah by giving a speech. I presented to the group what it meant for me to be a responsible person and how having a Bar Mitzvah gave me more insight into what it means to be Jewish.

Overall, Birthright Israel was an amazing experience that provided so much more than just a free trip to Israel. I gained a deeper understanding of what it means to be connected within a Jewish community, and how vital Israel is for Jewish identity. I had a great time getting to know my travel mates and the staff, having adventures in a new place, and learning so much about my cultural and religious background. If you find yourself with the opportunity to go on Birthright, I highly recommend it. Be open with yourself and others, and it will be a trip to remember.

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Thomas Steinhart, 2019 Birthright Israel Alumnus
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