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From Birthright Israel Participant to Olah Chadasha, The Journey of Nicole LaGrua

November 21, 2019 at 6:59 am
by Nicole LaGrua • Rumson, NJ Birthright Israel Alumna 2019

Where do I begin? This trip has changed my life, really. As of last December, I was a student at Penn State University, and the only reason I went on Birthright Israel was because a friend from college wanted me to come with him. So I thought, why not! I had never been to Israel before and wanted to learn more. Present-day, almost a year after my trip, I am now a citizen of Israel, drafting to the IDF in April 2020. Without my Birthright Israel experience, I would have never seen outside the bubble that I was stuck in about how my life was “supposed” to be.

I had previously never really felt a connection to my Judaism and never really understood its value. But after this trip, I learned that the Jewish people are tied together tightly with a thick rope and that we always have each other’s backs. I had never felt so genuinely connected to other people as much as I did during those ten days. My experience didn’t make me become religious but helped me understand we are a special community, and each person’s Judaism is different. I learned Judaism is about openness and being welcoming to others, and feeling like you have something at the core in common. This trip simplified what Judaism is to me: it’s a way of bringing people together, and I felt like it was something I could finally identify with.

For me, a huge part of my experience was having the soldiers with our group for the whole trip. Three of the six soldiers to this day are my best friends here in Israel, and it’s a friendship that meets no other because of the nature of our relationship – Birthright. When I was on the trip, I did favor hanging out with the soldiers because it absolutely fascinated me how different our lives were, regardless we connected seamlessly.

As for the rest of the bus, I did also make really great friends with some of the Americans too. They are people I will not see so frequently, but when you do, it’s like no time has passed because of what we all shared on our Birthright Israel experience. I have to also say that if you took one person out of our group, it could have been a completely different experience. Our group leader, Ramiz, was the glue that held us all together, and I would say he is the one responsible for all of us having such an amazing time. He really does deserve the credit for how well he did his job. I cannot thank this organization enough for having given me an experience that will forever be the turning point in my life. So thank you, and I hope I can be a part of someone else experience as a group leader when the time comes.

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