Ever since I was a participant on Birthright in the winter of 2013, I knew I wanted to have a birthright part two; a staff edition! And 5 years later, as a Hillel campus staff, I was fortunate enough to be able to staff a Canadian national, classic, 18-22 year old trip this past May.
When reflecting on this birthright trip, I could go on and on about our daily activities, the programs and events, some classic sites we visited, the delicious food we ate, our accommodations, the group dynamic, little anecdotes, etc… and let me tell you- all of that would make for some fine stories. However, at the end of the day, that’s not why I chose to staff birthright. Sure, it was an incredibly fun time, I got to meet amazing people and see my favorite places for the hundredth time (never gets old though!). And yes, of course I got a free trip to Israel out of it and was able to visit family and friends. Oh, did I mention that it was a great professional development and leadership experience (and learning opportunity) for me? While all of those factors are genuinely important to me, they aren’t at all why I chose to staff birthright…
You see, without even knowing it, my journey into my own Judaism and relationship with Israel (despite being Israeli and Jewish) began when I got off the plane at Ben Gurion airport in December of 2013 and has been one of the biggest parts of my identity and self-discovery ever since. And THAT is why I chose to staff birthright. It was then that I finally realized how important Jewish identity and Israel are in my life, and felt obligated to pass it on…
I feel obligated and privileged to pass on Jewish values, Israeli culture, and everything in between to those who are searching for it, who are unfamiliar with it, or who are just curious about it (because I was all of those things, myself). I chose to staff birthright so that I could help someone else navigate the intricacies and complexities (and simultaneously the beauty and wonders) of Judaism and Israel, whatever their opinions might be, and be there for them as they embark on their own journeys of self-discovery… So that I could share with and educate them about my Israeli narrative and my version of Israel and Judaism, but also learn from everyone else’s and help them find theirs; to show them that there isn’t only one right way to live a Jewish life, nor is a relationship with Israel simply black or white… I chose to do it so I could see and facilitate all of the life epiphanies, the touching, vulnerable moments, the laughter and emotional impact, the personal connections, even experiencing Aroma (better than Starbucks?) for the very first time, the doubt, challenges, newfound knowledge, open-mindedness, diverse perspectives, and everything else that comes with birthright, for those 40 young Jewish souls whom I had the privilege to staff birthright for. Really, I chose to do it so that I could live out those same Jewish values that I preach, in the Holy Land- in the place that no matter what, at the end of the day, with all of its insanity, I will always have the privilege of calling home; as will every Jewish person in the world. And THAT is all of our birthright.
And for me, those reasons are exactly what this birthright trip was!
Ps: please be advised that birthright comes with many laughs and sleepless nights, countless life-changing moments, multiple deep connections and newly gained perspectives, and the opportunity to really make a difference, whether you’re a staff or a participant.
Written by Ilana Shtivelman, Program Coordinator at Queen’s Hillel