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.