While I was a student at Western University, I had the opportunity to participate in Canada Israel Experience’s Madrichim in Training program, which brings together approximately 100 community leaders from across Canada for an intensive training seminar to staff Birthright Israel trips. I traveled to Israel four times before I had my first Birthright Israel experience, but nothing can compare to experiencing Israel with your peers. In May of 2013 I was privileged enough to be able to staff my first of now six Birthright Israel trips – trips that changed how I lived my life and my time on campus at Western. Birthright Israel allows you to explore one of the most incredible places in the entire world and learn about your Jewish heritage whether you planned on it or not. I am always blown away by how a country the size of New Jersey can have multiple landscapes, a vast culinary scene, and offer incredible people, culture, and innovation. Each time I am there I learn more about everything that Israel has to offer.
One of Birthright Israel’s goals is to strengthen each participant’s Jewish identity. It is something on which Birthright Israel and Canada Israel Experience’s Madrichim in Training program prides itself. For me personally, Jewish identity was a focus for me to impart on each participant. One of the staple programs that we as staff run for participants explores values that are integral to everyone’s Jewish identity. Participants need to decide on a common set of values that are integral to the survival of the Jewish people. It causes arguments, debates, and brings everyone in the group closer together. It makes each person in the room think about what Judaism means to them and always makes me think which values are most important to me. Being able to learn about and experience Israel as well as explore my personal Jewish identity allowed me to shift my focus of life on campus when I returned from my first Birthright Israel experience.
I became passionate about providing students with experiences of either getting back to Israel, delving deeper into Israel’s culture and complexities, or further exploring Jewish values or Jewish communities. I could share my love for Judaism and Israel that I developed on Birthright Israel with my fellow students as well as some of my participants from trips that I led. Birthright Israel gave me the foundation to become involved in my community after returning from the trip, whether that meant standing up to anti-Semitism or enjoying a Shabbat dinner with friends.
For me, Birthright Israel and Canada Israel Experience provide the fundamentals and blueprint to connect to Israel and Judaism. The trip allows participants to return to their communities feeling more connected and wanting to explore not only what their communities can offer them but also what they can offer their Jewish communities.
Canada Israel Experience and Birthright Israel gave me the chance to connect to Israel as well as deepen my connection to the Jewish community in Canada. There are so many great programs that Canada Israel Experience offers to give young people opportunities to go back to Israel and reconnect after their Birthright Israel trip. You can volunteer and study with Masa Israel Journey, do an internship in Tel Aviv with Onward Israel, or journey to Poland and Israel to learn about the Holocaust with the young adult March of the Living. You can find all this information about CIE’s programs at canadaisraelexperience.com.