Opinions Rosh Hashanah 5779

The Magic of Birthright Israel

Doug Ross is the Atlanta chair of Birthright Israel Foundation.

Doug Ross

“I have been profoundly awakened. This trip has transformed me and changed my life. I have been filled with a rush of loving purpose.”

“I cannot thank you enough for this sacred experience … Israel is my heart and soul … I had no idea how much of a soul-awakening, life-changing experience this was going to be for me. How magical. I have never felt anything like it.”

The lines above were written a few months ago by a young woman named Jessie, 32, from New Jersey, upon returning from her Birthright Israel trip. Her words of gratitude are all the more poignant because she almost didn’t get to experience what the program’s co-founder, Charles Bronfman, once referred to as “one of the most successful education projects in Jewish history.” For Birthright Israel’s first 18 years, this “gift from one generation to the next” was available only to young Jewish adults between the ages of 18 and 26. It was only this year that this life-changing experience was opened up to a limited number of 27 to 32-year-olds.

This young lady just happened to be one of the lucky few.

In late June, my wife, Robyn, and I traveled to Israel as part of a national mission celebrating Birthright Israel’s 18th anniversary. Of all the many profound and meaningful experiences we had on this trip, one of the most special wasn’t on our group’s itinerary. This young lady, Jessie, had been so moved by her experience that she decided to come back to Israel only about two months after her trip, but this time, she returned with her mother and grandfather, neither of whom had ever been to Israel. She needed to show them the country that she had fallen in love with. Realizing we were all going to be in Israel at the same time, we arranged to meet up in Jerusalem. People I had never met before instantly became family as we shared hugs and stories. A very special moment, indeed.

The idea that others like Jessie might not ever have the opportunity to participate in Birthright Israel motivates me every day. It literally breaks my heart to think that even one young person might not get to see what Jessie saw, or to feel what she felt. It remains one of the great honors of my life to be part of this remarkable family of professionals and lay leaders who do the work necessary to provide this experience to tens of thousands of young Jewish adults each year and connect them to Israel and to our rich Jewish traditions, history and culture.

As we begin a new year, my wish for each member of the wonderful and vibrant Atlanta Jewish community is that they find their own way to connect, to be part of something bigger than themselves, and to feel, in Jessie’s poetic words, “a rush of loving purpose.”

Wishing everyone a Shana tovah umetukah.

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