By Lauren Keeley
It’s Day 2 of Birthright and I’m already soaking every last bit of it up. From the wonderful educational material provided by our guide Iftach to the activities led by Hindy and Yael, we have already experienced and opened our hearts to so much in Israel. I really appreciate being met at the airport by our Israeli peers from the military or universities and getting to talk to them about their perspective on certain issues. Last night I couldn’t sleep for about 3 hours mainly because I was engaged in a dialogue with myself about the meaning of Judaism. I want to share some of my thoughts with you back home in hopes that Jews and non-Jews may explore a different perspective about our heritage.
First of all, I want to state that I am not very religious. If you read this and assume that I am an Orthodox Jew or otherwise deeply invested in my faith then it removes you from the greater purpose of this message. But, I have been trying for a year or two now to develop my own ideas about Judaism and see where I fit into the larger picture of the religion. Whether that means practicing it with my future family or not, I am still on my own path to a Jewish identity and hope these words will help anyone along their own path.
Years ago, a friend of mine expressed to me that being Jewish was more than a religious faith. Being Jewish was also a heritage, a history, and an ethnicity of sorts. As I think about what that means, I am heavily comforted by the fact that I am and will always be Jewish no matter what happens. Because my father was Jewish and my grandparents before him, I have inherited this lineage and identity whether I choose to recognize or act upon it.
Judaism being an "ethnicity" is a tricky concept. I liken it to being Polish, Italian or Russian that I was also born into. But the main difference is that when I say I’m Italian I’m really kidding myself. I love the food, and the festivities, but I was not born in Italy and it is really my grandparent’s background that was given to me. I feel that I would have to move to Italy, cook the food frequently, and participate in Italian-American days or something to really call myself an Italian. However, regardless of whether I attend synagogue, Hebrew school, or get Bat-Mitzvah’d, I will always be Jewish. It’s not something hidden about me and it’s not going to change.
Being Jewish is special in that is isn’t just a religion and it isn’t just a nationality and it isn’t just a heritage from the past. I am extremely lucky, despite the hardships that have faced the Jewish people in the past, to be a descent of Judaism. Deep back in my ancestry, Abraham was my relative, and Issac and Jacob. They experienced the word of G-d (abbreviated for Jewish custom) and He told them that they and all their ancestors will inherit a kingdom. Well, that has come true in my lifetime. The Jews have inherited the kingdom of Israel and have made it their country and their homeland. But it’s not just Israelis that experience this benefit. Every Jewish person that exists today is entitled, welcomed, and accepted in Israel. No matter where we are on this Earth or our dedication to Judaism as a religion, we are united as one people, with one common heritage. I feel so lucky to have been given the gift of Birthright, which in my mind means that because I was born Jewish I have the right to go to Israel and experience all that is has to offer. In my short time here already, I have felt connected, moved, inspired, and proud to be Jewish and I hope all my fellow Jews can find that enrichment in their lives. Never stop learning, reflecting, and forming your Jewish identity.