Over the past several weeks, Israel has welcomed hundreds, even thousands of young visitors. Birthright participants from all across North America have flooded the holy sites and attractions of the Holy Land, hoping to give young adults just a small snapshot of the beauty that this country has to offer.
In my news feed, I have seen many friends return from their journeys and take to social media to proclaim the amazing time that has been had. It is always a lovely thing to see someone catch the contagious love for Israel that so many Jews know, and to be moved to a more profound connection to not only the land, but also the Jewish people.
|Just one of the beautiful sights to see in Tel Aviv.|
I absolutely believe that a life can be changed in 10 days. In fact, I hope that Birthright does change lives. But far too many people are saying those words, only to return home and fall right back into who they were before they left.
I went on Birthright in 2014. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to see the country that so many call home and that is such an important part of my Jewish identity. It was my second visit to Israel, but, for most in my group, it was a first experience. By the time we finished, many were saying that they had had a life-changing experience, and that the way they connect with their Judaism was going to be different when they got home.
Well, the next week, at Hillel, I saw many of those fresh faces show up for services, welcomed with open arms to enjoy the warmth of Shabbat as a community. Within a few weeks, though, they were almost entirely gone. What had started as a profoundly moving religious and cultural experience turned into a stamp on the passport and a memory, readily available if one wanted to take it down and look at it.
We say that Birthright changed our lives, but what that means is that our lives actually have to change. We have to change the way we think about Israel, the way we advocate for Israel. We have to adapt our religious experiences, our practices, our rituals and our customs. We have to be willing to let the impact of Israel endure beyond the ten days, beyond the two weeks, beyond the memory of the visit to the physical sites of our homeland.
That isn’t meant to say anyone’s experience in Israel is invalid, or that returning home to the lifestyles we are familiar with is wrong. But if we want to allow Birthright and similar trips to Israel to actually be as life-changing as we say they are, we have to be willing to let them into the way we live, and to allow them to actually leave a ripple that endures beyond the trip.
So play with the traditions and cultures you learned while you were in Israel. Try observing Shabbat in a more intentional way. Go to a cultural event at your local Jewish community center. Eat differently, pray differently, advocate differently. Israel is a life-changing place, but only so long as we allow our lives to actually be changed by the things we experience.