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Birthright Israel gave me back my Jewish heritage

April 29, 2020 at 8:00 am
by Olivia Lavidor • Ashland, MA 2019 Birthright Israel Alumna
Olivia and her brother on Birthright Israel

For as long as I could remember, my Gramma’s voice was in the back of my head, urging me to go on Birthright Israel with my brother. She said it would be a great chance for us to bond and rediscover our Jewish heritage. She had always wanted to go to Israel herself, but never had the opportunity and felt a Birthright Israel trip was something my brother and I could not pass up.

At 13, I became a Bat Mitzvah but then quickly lost touch with my Jewish heritage. As a young girl, I remember loving how we’d sing prayers in the mornings and learn Hebrew in the afternoons. However, this changed when I switched from Jewish Day School to public school. I quickly realized my Jewish identity was being labeled as “different” by others. And, from this point, I shied away from it until December 2019 when I went on Birthright Israel.

Olivia with her Birthright Israel group.

LESSONS OF EMPOWERMENT & JEWISH HERITAGE

I thought my trip would be a fun traveling experience, but it was truly so much more. There were many beautiful sights, once-in-a-lifetime lessons, and meaningful moments I’ll never forget. Like, the night before, we visited Yad VaShem. Idan, our Tour Educator, asked all of the Americans to raise our hands if we had ever experienced antisemitism. Sadly, many of us had stories of antisemitism and there wasn’t enough time to tell them all.

Then, Idan asked the Israelis if they were surprised about what us Americans had said. The majority of Israelis were shocked. They had never experienced antisemitism as we have in the US. For me, this was the moment when I knew Israel was my second home. Right then and there, Israel and my Jewish heritage instantly became so important to my identity. I finally felt a sense of belonging as I never had before.

Let me further explain why I have this new feeling of belonging. I go to Boston College; a Catholic-affiliated school where I have always felt like the “other.” Each student at BC is required to take a theology course, and before my Birthright Israel experience, I was scared to speak up and share what it is like to be a Jew during class. But, after Birthright Israel, I feel empowered to speak up on behalf of my Jewish heritage and beliefs. I know this sense of empowerment is something I will keep with me forever.

CONNECTING WITH OUR ISRAELI PEERS & JEWISH HERITAGE

Another important takeaway from Birthright Israel came from talking with the Israeli soldiers. While college has been an important and formative part of my life, I admire that young men and women in Israel who are my age are doing something as crucial as protecting the only Jewish state. in the world. This reminded me that the life-giving moments are enough to slow down and reflect on; I realized you should let the meaningful things have time.

BONDING WITH MY BROTHER LIKE NEVER BEFORE

Participating in Birthright Israel with my brother allowed us to grow both as siblings and as individuals. We are now connected as we had never been. I saw a new, extroverted side of him, and we had many opportunities to share our opinions in a meaningful way. It was intriguing to me that we had different views on our own Jewish heritage, despite being raised in the same household.

At the end of the trip, he came up to me and hugged me, thanking me for getting him to Israel. We have made efforts to visit each other at school and frequently call each other to catch up since our trip ended. I am so thankful that Birthright Israel finally took the moody teenager stuck in his room playing video games and turned him into my brother.

NEW OPPORTUNITIES THANKS TO BIRTHRIGHT ISRAEL

Since returning home, I have applied and was accepted to an internship program at Tel Aviv University for summer 2020 in a lab on the campus, coronavirus permitting (Between us, I knew before my trip was over that I wanted to come back.). My research is focused on a comprehensive approach to exploring the mechanism of cancer cell reprogramming and the contribution of the tumor microenvironment to the study of neurobiology and oncobiology. This is an opportunity that I would have never even considered before my Birthright Israel experience. I am both excited and proud to be returning to Israel to do work that is aligned with my career goals and to explore the country more.

Without Birthright Israel Foundation, my brother and I would have never been able to afford a trip to Israel and have this life-changing experience.
My household consists of my brother and me, and we were raised almost entirely by my Mom. She is my hero and tries to give us everything, and I do everything I can to give back to her. But, I know without the generosity of Birthright Israel Foundation’s donors something like this would have never been possible. I also can never thank my Gramma enough for urging us to go. This is the one time where I think I will never be able to thank her enough for nagging me! Birthright Israel has given me new friends, a new lifeline, and the State of Israel, a place I can now call a home away from home.

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Olivia and her brother on Birthright Israel
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