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Atlanta Birthright Community Trips

I Honestly Didn’t Want To Leave

By Atlanta Birthright Community Trips, COMMUNITY, NextGen

When I signed up for my Taglit-Birthright Israel trip, I hadn’t thought much about being Jewish since my bar mitzvah at Temple Kol Emeth. My college years at Georgia Tech had been about the usual stuff – studying, football, swim team and my friends. This Birthright trip touched me in ways I didn’t expect. I honestly didn’t want to leave.

I’m too tall to sleep well on an airplane, so when we landed in Israel I was exhausted. But I couldn’t sleep. On the bus to Tiberius I kept looking out the window – Israel is so lush and green!

After spending a few days up North, my group headed to Jerusalem to celebrate Shabbat, my favorite experience of the trip. During this sacred time, six people on my trip, some of whom had never even been to synagogue, celebrated their bar/bat mitzvahs.  They learned the Torah blessings, studied the Torah portion and prepared personal stories about what this experience meant to them.  One participant wore his grandfather’s tallit for the service. It really heightened my awareness of what being Jewish means to me; even my thoughts about Judaism and marriage are evolving now. It’s important to me to raise Jewish kids.

This fall, I’ll be starting dental school at University of Florida. There’s an active Hillel on campus and I can join the International Jewish dental fraternity, Alpha Omega.  Birthright was my first trip to Israel, but I hope it won’t be my last.

Federation, in partnership with Birthright Israel Foundation, invests in subsidized Birthright Israel trips for young adults (ages 22-26) to deepen their Jewish identity and build lifetime connections to Israel.

Leadership Lessons on Birthright

By Atlanta Birthright Community Trips, COMMUNITY, NextGen

Five years ago, Maddie Cook traveled to Israel with Birthright Israel Atlanta. Her encounter with Israel came full circle when she became a leader on our 2019 Summer Birthright trip. Curiosity about Israel drove Maddie to sign up for her first trip. Creating community was her motivation to lead one.

“Growing up Jewish, I often felt like an odd one out, but traveling to Israel and experiencing it with people like me was incredibly comforting. Experiencing Birthright with people like me from Atlanta created a built-in community I never realized I had.”

“There were several new activities on this past Atlanta Birthright trip that were not part of my original trip. Some favorite additions include rafting down the Jordan River and visiting Buza Ice-Cream Parlor, an Arab-Jewish collaboration in the Galilee Region. Not only does it represent a beautiful story and partnership, but the ice cream is delicious.”

“Our time in Yokneam, Atlanta’s Partnership city, was very memorable. On my first visit, we only were there for an evening event. This time, we played soccer with kids from one of the local schools. Soccer is truly the international sport and ultimate language barrier breaker. In no time, we were laughing and playing with the kids. This part of the trip was a favorite among the group.”

“Staffing an Atlanta Birthright trip was perhaps even more rewarding than my first visit. I had the chance to shape and guide others experiencing Israel and exploring their Jewish identities. The relationships that developed over our ten days in Israel have now come stateside, and that’s not always an easy thing to do. It brings a smile to my face seeing people from our trip make plans to socialize, do Shabbat dinners and work on the itineraries for the Israeli soldiers visiting Atlanta in the coming months.”

What Does Secular Judaism Mean?

By Atlanta Birthright Community Trips, COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, NextGen

By: Robin Glaubman

Just six weeks ago I traveled to Israel for the first time with 38 strangers on Atlanta’s Birthright Israel summer trip. Quite honestly, I’d never been around so many Jews in my life! I grew up never going to synagogue, attending one Passover seder, one bar mitzvah, and the only Jewish holiday we ever celebrated was Hanukkah. Still, I have always strongly identified as Jewish. I’ve called myself a Heritage Jew, meaning that I was not a religious Jew. The concept of being a “secular” Jew wasn’t even part of my vocabulary. I didn’t realize before the trip that it was yet another way to be Jewish.

Our Birthright bus ranged from people who attended synagogue every week and spoke Hebrew, to myself and eight others who struggled through a phonetic pronunciation of the Torah blessings during our bar/bat mitzvah ceremonies in Jerusalem, and just about every shade of observance in between. When we arrived in Israel we were told to make the trip about ourselves. Not to be self-absorbed, but to make sure we were experiencing our own authentic Jewish journey.  It was good advice. I never felt like my opinion wasn’t valid or didn’t want to be heard. I never felt like any less of a Jew than anyone else on the trip.

One night I had a conversation with a fellow secular Jew that really stands out in my mind. We were debating what were the most important aspects of being Jewish. Raising Jewish families? Supporting Israel? Studying Torah? His ideas startled me. And his definition of what is a secular Jew challenged me deeply.

For many years growing up he’d attended a havurah, which I learned is not a synagogue, but a group of people who get together for Shabbat and holidays, usually without a rabbi. He spoke some Hebrew, and he had a bar mitzvah at age thirteen. This shocked me! How could you call yourself a secular Jew and be so involved, so connected to Judaism as a religion. His definition of secular vs. religious hinged on whether or not a person believes in G-d.  He also implied that he could not be considered ‘religious’ because he was not Orthodox. This too shocked me. Growing up he was surrounded by Orthodox Jews, so that was what religious Judaism looked like to him.

To me, he was one of the most Jewishly connected people I’d ever met. I may have been one of the least connected Jews he’d ever met. And yet here we were in Israel, on a trip for Jewish young adults, attempting to reconcile some very macro-level questions of what it means to be Jewish. These were big conversations for me. And they’re big conversations for all of us.

While each day of Birthright was filled with a whirlwind of hikes, history lessons, monuments, water activities and limitless information, this conversation remains my biggest takeaway. There are no bad Jews. There are no lesser Jews. We all do Judaism differently and we all do it right. By making the trip about my own Jewish journey, I found a place in Judaism that I could call my own.