I remember every second of my first Birthright Israel trip. I’ve never felt that connected to anything in my life. Everywhere we went, everything I saw and did, I felt like I was meant to be there.
I think it’s because it’s the land of my people.
I didn’t expect to come home and think about nothing but getting back to Israel. But once you find that feeling of connection and belonging, you do anything you can to get it back.
Before Birthright Israel, I was just a girl who was raised Jewish. After that trip, I realized that Judaism is something to be cherished and taken care of.
Over the next four years after I returned from my trip, I participated in a lot of Jewish activities at school. But all I wanted to do was go back to Israel so I could feel those connections again … because I never really felt them at home.
When I had the opportunity to apply for the Birthright Israel Fellows program to become a trip leader, I jumped at the chance. Birthright had opened my eyes to Israel and I wanted to help do that for other people. I went to a week-long training in Jerusalem and learned how to be a Birthright leader – and more than that, I learned all about how to be a leader in general.
I staffed my first trip in September of that year. Then I did another one in January. And another one this past June. I already have another one scheduled for winter!
It’s been incredible. My favorite part of being a leader is watching participants learn and grow in Israel. I’ve seen them become totally different people at the end of the trip from who they were at the beginning. It’s rewarding, inspiring, and it makes me want to keep doing it.
My hope is that the participants on my trip are making connections to Israel as a Jewish person. My goal is to help them see as much of the beauty of Israel and Judaism as possible — and to bring that back home with them.
Birthright Israel is crucial in keeping Judaism alive. On these trips, participants are able to experience Israel for themselves and develop their own opinions, which is important to the future of Israel as a country and to the future of the Jewish people. We need our young people to continue to go to Israel, learn, see its beauty and carry those experiences with them forever.
Birthright Israel is the first chance — and sometimes the only chance — that a lot of people have to see our homeland. It’s vital to Jewish people’s future … and to Israel’s future.
Birthright Israel is able to provide this extraordinary trip to each participant as a gift — with help from generous supporters. If you want to help young Jewish adults discover a deeply personal connection with their Jewish heritage and the state of Israel, please make a gift to Birthright Israel Foundation. When you give right now, your support will be TRIPLED thanks to a special matching gift campaign! Click here to learn more.
Leah Graff is an Administrative Assistant & Religious School Teacher at Temple Beth David in Massachusetts and a Birthright Israel Fellow.This article was prepared in cooperation with Birthright Israel.