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Each year, thousands of Jewish young adults between the ages of 18-26 travel to Israel for a free, one-of-a-kind trip. Since its inception in 1999, Birthright Israel has sent 600,000 participants to Israel. The young adults come from 67 countries, including the U.S. and Canada.

According to their website, Birthright Israel seeks to strengthen Jewish identity and Jewish communities, and create connections with Israel. Trips are operated by different organizers to appeal to a variety of interests. However, all trips focus on three core areas:

+ Narratives of the Jewish people
+ Contemporary Israel
+ Ideas and values of the Jewish people

Many young adults in the Dayton area have taken advantage of this wonderful program. We heard from several of them, who were kind enough to share with us details of their journeys.

A frequent attendee at YAD events and co-president of J-shoft, a medical school club for Jewish students, Brandon Schwartz went on Birthright Israel in December 2016 with a healthcare-focused group. His most significant moment in Israel was traveling to the Western Wall on the first night of Chanukah. “I felt so connected to my heritage at that moment and felt the energy that surrounds Jerusalem and the Jewish people.” Brandon, who grew up in Los Angeles, did not grow up in a very religious home, and rarely went to temple. Birthright sparked a new desire for him to be more deeply rooted in Judaism.

Ariel Ya’akov Berry, a Kettering native, attended Birthright in the summer of 2016. The impact the trip had on his life is immeasurable. “I feel Birthright helped me become more ritually observant. I now keep strict kosher, observe Shabbat, and pray three times daily. I feel much more connected to the world’s Jewish population, be they in the diaspora or in Eretz Yisrael.”

After my Bat Mitzvah, I lost the desire to grow in my faith, and went through the motions of being Jewish, instead of living Jewishly. Coming home from Israel, I realized just how rich our Jewish faith and history is. My trip really reignited the fire in my heart to live a Jewish life.

~ Melanie Brenner

After my Bat Mitzvah, I lost the desire to grow in my faith, and went through the motions of being Jewish, instead of living Jewishly. Coming home from Israel, I realized just how rich our Jewish faith and history is. My trip really reignited the fire in my heart to live a Jewish life.

~ Melanie Brenner

After my Bat Mitzvah, I lost the desire to grow in my faith, and went through the motions of being Jewish, instead of living Jewishly. Coming home from Israel, I realized just how rich our Jewish faith and history is. My trip really reignited the fire in my heart to live a Jewish life.

~ Melanie Brenner

Melanie Brenner, who grew up in the Dayton Jewish community, described her 2009 Birthright trip as a homecoming to her Jewish faith. “After my Bat Mitzvah, I lost the desire to grow in my faith, and went through the motions of being Jewish, instead of living Jewishly. Coming home from Israel, I realized just how rich our Jewish faith and history is. My trip really reignited the fire in my heart to live a Jewish life.”

Others shared similar sentiments of the reconnection to their Jewish culture and faith. Etana Jacobi, who is originally from New Hampshire, went on Birthright in early 2017. The trip helped Etana reflect on her own Jewish identity and relationship with the Jewish community. “This past Chanukah, I attended a celebration at a friend’s home. While lighting the candles, I found beauty in reciting ancient words that came back to me so easily after so many years. Through our shared language and history, that prayer dissolved the strangeness of reciting foreign words with people I barely knew. In that moment, it felt good to be a member of the tribe.”

Federation Board member Hannah Schwartz went on Birthright in 2010. Originally from Tennessee, Hannah has become very involved in the Dayton Jewish community. She is a member of the Jewish Dayton Chorale and very active with YAD. Her birthright trip had extra special meaning. “The best part of Birthright for me was being able to see my brother, who was a lone soldier at the time.

Hannah added, “I was able to see some of the places I have heard about since I was younger. Seeing pictures is so different from walking down a crowded Jerusalem street or stepping into a bustling Tel Aviv mall. There is a sense of connection that I now have that wasn’t present before, and that is a priceless gift.”

Birthright Israel is supported in part by the Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton’s Annual Campaign, through a yearly allocation to the program. You can read more about this incredible program at birthrightisrael.com.

If you would like more information about YAD, or would like to connect with Jewish people in the community, please contact Cheryl Carne, Director of External Relations at (937) 610-1778 or ccarne@jfgd.net.

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