Andrea Greenwald had never travelled out of the country, let alone to Israel. She had heard about Taglit-Birthright Israel, the organization providing the gift of first time, peer group, educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18-26, through her “more Jewish” friends in college. However, at the age of 26, she still hadn’t made the choice to apply.
“I knew the cut-off was 27, so I decided, this was my last opportunity. I just knew I had to do it,” says Andrea. She applied and was accepted to THE ASSOCIATED’s IMPACT Birthright Israel Experience in January 2011.
Andrea wanted to meet new friends, experience Israeli culture and food. What Andrea did not know was that this trip was what she needed to awaken a deep spiritual connection to her Judaism – and to the Jewish community.
“It was unbelievable. None of us knew each other and we just all sat down on the bus with these Israeli soldiers from our sister city, Ashkelon, that first day,” she recounts. “There was an immediate connection.”
She was enthralled by her climb up Masada and awe-struck by the view –and the history – and the top of the mountain. She relished her couple of hours floating in the Dead Sea and smothering her body with its mud. It was going to the Kotel, the Western Wall, however, “that was very emotional for me.”
“It just inspired me. It made me appreciate my Judaism so much more, being there, touching the wall, being able to put a note in the wall,” says Andrea. “Being at the Wall on Shabbat, it was incredible to be amongst all those people just like me.”
Taglit-Birthright Israel’s founders created the Birthright program to send thousands of young Jewish adults from all over the world to Israel as a gift to diminish the growing division between Israel and Jewish communities around the world; to strengthen the sense of solidarity among world Jewry; and to strengthen participants’ personal Jewish identity and connection to the Jewish people. THE ASSOCIATED’s allocation to Birthright provides hundreds of youth studying at our area colleges and universities, and young adults living in our community, the chance to have this experience.
“To me, Birthright was life-changing,” Andrea says. “I made friendships I know will last forever. Now that I am back at home, I want to get involved; I want to be a part of Jewish Baltimore, because I feel like I am part of something bigger.”