Rachel Reibach ‘18

Israel has always been special to me. I visited as a teenager and learned as much as I could about its history and culture. I could talk to anyone about Israel and defend it if I had to. In high school all of my Jewish friends knew about Israel and had most likely visited with summer camps or youth group programs. I never really had to explain why I felt such a connection to the country. After visiting as a college student, I had a completely new experience. This past Winter Break on Birthright, I got to return to one of my favorite places and see it through the eyes of people who had never been there, including my best friend. Even the places I had already been (Tel Aviv, Dead Sea, Bedouin tents, etc.) felt new and exciting because I was able to see a completely new set of reactions, even my own. Coming to college and leaving my built in Jewish community forced me to think about my life and how much I wanted to prioritize my Judaism. As I stood at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, I realized how much my faith meant to me. As I met a group of Israeli soldiers who had selflessly dedicated their efforts to protecting the State of Israel, I remembered how important it was to be Jewish. Birthright came into my life at I time when I needed inspiration, and I was not disappointed. I made friends at nearby colleges as well as halfway around the world. I was able to challenge and strengthen my beliefs while making memories with an amazing group of people.

Daniel Boccio ‘14

My younger brother and I joined the Virginia Israel Free Spirit trip, him only visiting W&L a handful of times and I not having been back since graduation, and it was, simply put, an unforgettable experience. It was great reuniting with fellow Generals and a Veemee, and the rest of the crew on this trip was fantastic. Writing this in the days after Pesach, one can’t help reflect on the idea of being a stranger in a strange land. Certainly this was new terrain for us, my first time in the Eretz as well as the Middle East after many years going back and forth between Europe, NY, Lex and Brazil. However, every time someone would greet us, after introducing ourselves as on Birthright, with a warm “Welcome Home”, whether from a tchotchke vender in the HaCarmel Market of Tel Aviv or a Chabad Rabbi at the Kotel in Jerusalem, everyone seemed to make you feel at home. It was also nice hearing in a familiar accent, like that of the Kabbalah artist Avraham Loewenthal in Tzfat. While my younger brother and I didn’t have the most observant upbringing, every time we would hear Avi say his classic “4000 years of history, man. This is awesome,” or daven at the Kotel, or observe Shabbos in Jerusalem, we not only felt at home, but also felt and lived and kept that tradition of our grandmother, her family back in the old country, and before that and before that. That is what visiting Israel on Birthright meant to us.

Madeleine Boireau ‘17

I had the amazing opportunity to see Israel on Birthright this past winter. The minute I arrived, countless people welcomed me home. I didn’t get it. I was adamantly opposed to accepting it. Being stubborn by nature, I refused to even try to understand why Israel would be my home. Every day, it continued. Every minute of the trip was either spent with the group doing some sort of activity or spent sleeping. We hiked around and I was welcomed home, we discussed how Judaism affects our lives and I was welcomed home and I still didn’t get it. Then we went to the Old City and it clicked. Israel is important. Many will read that as an understatement and I think it is as well, but I don’t know how else to put it.  The history of Jerusalem truly blew me away. I still don’t know if I believe it all as fact but the respect I have for those who do has magnified exponentially. I will always remember sitting on the beaches of Tel Aviv and watching the sunrise in the Brussels airport with a group of young adults that I will keep in touch with for years. Birthright taught me that by not considering myself a religious Jew, I am not any less Jewish. Israel is for all of us.