Strangers No More
The Taglit-Birthright program had a more profound effect on my personal Jewish identity than anything else in my life. Traveling with a group of peers that started out as strangers who became friends, we explored Israel together, defining what the State's land and history meant to each of us individually. From Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, time spent on a kibbutz, in the desert, climbing Masada at dawn, all the experiences were amazing.
We experienced an incredible country of wonderful tastes, sounds and flavors, and came away yearning to finish the story that we started together on our own, whether that took shape as another trip to Israel, financial or verbal support, personal relationships, or marrying another program participant. Israel found a place in everyone's heart.
What did I come home with? A permanent connection to Israel that directly impacted the ways in which I live my life and how I lead in my Jewish community. This hands-on Israel experience made me understand and appreciate a Jewish homeland and culture. My community engagement -- I participated in the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County's Emerging Leadership Project, chaired a community-wide event two consecutive years, am on Federation's Corporate Sponsorship Committee -- and my Jewish sense of self are a direct result of my experience in the Birthright program. I know many other people from my trip who have found a home in Jewish communal and philanthropic activities because of Birthright as well.
Birthright gives me hope. For the next generations of the Jewish people and what happens to Judaism on a global scale. There isn't a Birthright alum who I've spoken to who has not been dramatically changed by their experience.
Most everyone I know who has visited Israel knows the sense of pride and the reasons Israel is worth understanding and protecting. You can hear it in their speech and see it in their actions.
I would like to see the program grow, and I am ecstatic that Palm Beach County has a growing Birthright program. Every time a Taglit-Birthright Israel participant travels to Israel, it leads to a stronger Jewish future -- here and abroad. I know this first-hand. I choose to support the program with my time and money, and hope that my peers do the same. I am 32-years-old and I write a check to Birthright every year, because I know how important the program is. I always wish I could give more.
- Kevin Shapiro