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Finding A Higher Purpose Through Birthright Israel

November 5, 2019 at 5:27 am
by Shavit Rootman • Mifgash Participant

I frequently ask myself, “What is your higher purpose?” It’s a question that I think so many people fail to ask themselves enough.

I am a 4th generation Israeli and have a deep family connection to this land. My family experienced the Holocaust and various wars in Israel, of which some of them did not survive, but some did. Due to my family history and duty to serve my country, life often demanded me to focus on the higher purpose of things.

“And as for me, my experience made me realize that as an Israeli, there is a bigger family and purpose to which I contribute.”

Making choices based on what our higher purpose is can be difficult, but in my opinion, it always turns out to be worth it.

As a child, I loved to play basketball, and apparently, I was pretty good at it. At the age of 18, I had to choose between pursuing a career in basketball or serving in the IDF. I chose the latter.

The reason I am here today and even have the capacity to dream big is because of what my country, Israel, provided for me. I had been given so much opportunity that I realized that it was time to give back. I wanted my purpose to be bigger than just myself, so I decided to join a special counter-terrorism unit in the Israeli military.

For some people, the junction before joining the military can be quite confusing. For me, however, the decision-making process was simple. My choices focused on the best ways in which I could contribute back to the State of Israel. Since I qualified for the special forces draft, I believed that this was the best was to give back to my country. 

But, one day, during a military operation, I broke my leg. To get back on my feet, I underwent intensive rehabilitation and physiotherapy. During the rehab process, I was introduced to the opportunity of Birthright Israel and becoming a Mifgash, one of the Israel participants. The timing was perfect. I was told that the trip would be near the end of my rehab, and since my friends and military teammates kept telling me, “Birthright will change your life – you have to do it!” I decided that it was a good journey on which I wanted to embark.

Since I grew up in a small town in Israel, I was concerned about how I would be able to connect with the Americans. Until this trip, I had never spent time with anyone from the United States, so I was quite overwhelmed. Yet, I knew deep inside that I wanted to be part of this program.

Fast forward to my time as a Mifgash on Birthright Israel, the idea of a higher purpose hit me in a new way.

There was one particular moment when we went to Mt. Herzl, where the fallen soldiers are buried. I decided that it was the right moment to share my story of being in the military, the sacrifice it takes and why it was worth it to me, and my uncle who died as a tank commander. One of the participants was an American Navy veteran. He shared how he had lost three of his best friends in combat in Iraq. As he shared his emotional story, he then paused and reached into his pocket.

He pulled out of his pocket the three nametags of his fallen friends. He had been carrying them with him since their deaths, unsure what to do with them. He ended up choosing to bury those three nametags at Mt. Herzl. It was a way for him to finally process his loss and get a sense of peace after repressing his emotions for so long.

As he was telling us of this moment, he started crying, I started crying, and everyone else started crying and feeling vulnerable. Nonetheless, everyone felt fully supported by one another. It was amazing to see people come together as a family and create a space for healing.

At this moment of my trip, I realized that my work as a soldier was more than fighting solely for the land of Israel. On top of fighting for land, I found a higher purpose in fighting for people such as my Birthright Israel friends and Jews around the world. Perhaps, I would have never come to this conclusion without my Birthright experience. I was not just fighting for land; I was and still am fighting for the Jewish people all over the world. Regardless of where we are born and the color of our skin, we all have one shared history.

It has been five years since the trip, and we are still the bests of friends and stay in touch. We all left that trip, realizing how much we need each other, regardless of the place from where we come. We are all Jewish and family and realizing that made my actions much more meaningful and provided me with a new purpose.

Birthright Israel is not merely a 10-day trip. Instead, it brings Jewish people from all over the world to realize that they have a family to which they belong. Birthright is about understanding that Israel is a place where we can all connect and where Jewish people from all over the world will always have a warm place. And as for me, my experience made me realize that as an Israeli, there is a bigger family and purpose to which I contribute.

If you’re still reading this, remember, I am you, and you are me… I belong to you, and you belong to me.

Thanks to my Birthright Israel trip, I realized that I could indeed be anywhere in the world and stay connected to Jews through a shared higher purpose.

Birthright Israel changed my life, and I am grateful for this experience beyond measure. I firmly believe in the mission of the organization, and I have always wanted others to experience what I did.

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