Blog Home

Why Birthright Israel Prepared Me For Seminary

July 9, 2020 at 8:00 am
by Sheyna Ryvkin • Brooklyn, NY 2019 Birthright Israel Alumna
2019 Birthright Israel alumna Sheyna Ryvkin at the Kotel with her group

Before I went on Birthright Israel, the organization seemed just like any other Israel travel company. To me, Israel was Israel and just the country of the Jewish people. However, this all changed after my trip. I can now say, Birthright Israel was an incredible experience, and Israel is home. It also prepared me for my year in seminary, which I started right after.

Let me tell you about my Birthright Israel journey…

Throughout my whole life, I heard about this free trip to Israel. I heard it was a trip to connect Jewish people to their roots and have traditional experiences like Shabbat. To someone who grew up in a religious, Orthodox household, like me, it sounded exciting but not necessarily fitting. My parents, who had a connection to Israel themselves, encouraged me to sign up, and so did my aunt. My aunt had participated in Birthright Israel and also has staffed many trips.

“All Orthodox Jews can benefit from this experience. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see our land and bring the lessons we’ve learned to life.”

As I mentioned earlier, my trip would take place right before my seminary gap year. This made me concerned about the technicalities and how I would only know one other person on my trip. Right up until I boarded the plane, I felt excited yet nervous. However, as the next ten days of my life went on, they were life-changing, inspiring, and exhilarating.

There was not a single moment where I felt uncomfortable or awkward during Birthright Israel. Coming together in a different country with a group of girls that I have never met before, felt like the most natural thing. The connections we made were for life, and we support each other, go to each other’s celebrations, and update each other on the smallest details of our lives.

Observing Shabbat in Israel

For me, Shabbat was something I have always done, it was a routine. However, on Birthright Israel, my group was lucky enough to have two Shabbat experiences. The first one particularly sticks out in my mind. At first, it seemed like we were spending Shabbat in the middle of nowhere. Little did I know that this place was a mountain that is written about in the Torah, in Navi. We spent the Shabbat in Har Tavor, where the story of the Judges in the Book of Judges took place. When I arrived at seminary, we learned about the Book of Judges, and I cannot explain the excitement I had when I realized I had actually been to the place we were discussing. It was then that Har Tavor meant so much more to me and became more than text. The Shabbat at Har Tavor also included singing the evening prayers, meals with Israeli families, and of course, delicious food and good moods.

The second Shabbat experience we had was in Jerusalem and was something unforgettable. I will never forget spending Friday night at The Kotel. Soon, after our evening prayer, the women broke out in dance and song. I found myself in the first circle, spinning and singing my heart out. At that moment, I felt at home. I felt a sense of belonging and connection to all of the strangers around me. At this point, Shabbat took on a different meaning and a different level, especially for someone who has kept Shabbat their whole life. Spending Shabbat in Jerusalem with Birthright Israel made me appreciate this tradition so much more.

Sheyna Ryvkin with members of her 2019 Birthright Israel group in the Old City.

Meeting the Israeli Soldiers

Another memorable time from my trip was when we met and hung out with the Israeli soldiers. Until this point, I never knew too much or cared to know a lot about the IDF. Getting to know the Israelis was eye-opening and changed my views forever. A few months after my trip, while I was still at seminary, I had the opportunity to attend a Tekes ceremony, a special event when the soldiers are sworn in. It was very emotional, and I felt as though all of them were my family and close friends.

Discovering All of Israel is Holy

After Shabbat and meeting the Israelis, I thought nothing more could surprise me about being in Israel – until it did. Before going on Birthright Israel, I knew a lot about holy places like Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Mt. Meron. However, what I didn’t realize was that nearly every corner of Israel is sacred. My group went to Tel Aviv, and I discovered this city was conquered by King David and King Shlomo. Tel Aviv was also used by the Jewish people as their port for business. We also visited Haifa and the cave of Eliahu HaNavi. Going to all of these places made me feel enriched and provided me more knowledge on the history of the Jewish people – something I have been studying my whole life through text.

Your Experience Can Help: Whether you’re an alum, family member, or longtime trip leader, sharing your experience can benefit future trip participants! Share Your Story >
Every Dollar Counts! Donate today and help send a young Jewish adult ona life-changing trip to claim their birthright.

Birthright Israel & Seminary

As you can see, Birthright Israel provided me with an incredible wealth of knowledge. More so, going to seminary after Birthright Israel was one of the best decisions I could have ever made. I came to seminary knowledgeable and prepared about the country I would spend the next year in. The trip helped me transition smoothly and gave me good memories to share with my new seminary friends. The best part is, I started seminary with most of my group from Birthright Israel.

When I think about my trip now, all I can think about is that I wish I could do it all over again! As an Orthodox Jew, I didn’t need Birthright Israel to help me discover my Jewish heritage, I needed it to strengthen it. All Orthodox Jews can benefit from this experience. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see our land and bring the lessons we’ve learned to life.

I am so grateful to have been able to go on this trip, and I know my journey has only begun. The day I turn 21 I cannot wait to staff a Birthright Israel trip – it will be the most fantastic thing. I look forward to the day I can help others experience everything I did – and who knows, maybe it will also prepare them for seminary!

  Blog Home
2019 Birthright Israel alumna Sheyna Ryvkin at the Kotel with her group