By Samantha B. Silver
Being Jewish was always something I appreciated because it set me apart from other people. It made me unique and even in my younger years was something that I thought made me special. From history to culture to music, Judaism has always been a strong part of the way I see myself.
Of course, in a city like Baltimore, it could be easy for someone to take her Judaism for granted. There are so many of us here. At the same time, having the resources of a large Jewish community has been one of the greatest things about growing up and living in Baltimore.
Still, I wanted to learn more about my heritage. During my sophomore year of college, I was determined to go on Taglit-Birthright Israel, having heard about it from so many of my friends who had traveled with their college Hillel or on other Birthright “adventure” trips. I wanted to see the Holy Land and in the summer of my junior year of college, I decided to go on a Birthright trip.
I did some research and found out about Mayanot’s arts and entertainment trip. As a writer and arts reporter, it was a great chance to meet like-minded Jewish young adults from all over the country. Even the American chaperones and Israeli soldiers and guides were involved in the arts. We were accompanied by a student studying at the music conservatory in Tel Aviv, and soldiers who were in the Army Band and Theater Troupe.
Being in Israel made me feel even prouder to be Jewish and I was welcomed into Israel with cries of “welcome home.” I enjoyed Shabbos with people that soon felt like family, and I didn’t want to leave the streets of Tel Aviv or the beautiful hills of the Golan Heights. Still, I knew Baltimore was my home. I couldn’t wait to share my experiences with everyone I knew in the States.
Last winter, I found out about Beyond Birthright’s kickoff event at MICA, which held a showcase of Israeli art from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem and a film screening of Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir. My sister had just recently come back from her Birthright trip and we went to the event together.
Since that first event, Beyond Birthright has been a great way to meet new people and give back to the community that I have been a part of for so long. As a member of the Beyond Birthright Leadership Council, I’ve also had the opportunity to help connect other Birthright alumni with a network of Jewish young professionals. Together, we can celebrate our Jewish heritage and bond through local experiences.
Over the past year, we’ve organized a trip to Camden Yards for a baseball game, volunteered at the Pearlstone Center Farm, celebrated Shabbat and holidays, tasted Israeli wine, baked challah and hamantaschen and engaged in many meaningful discussions and conversations. There’s plenty more to come, including our screening of “Israel Inside” later this month, which will bring together both Israeli and American Baltimoreans to discuss life in Israel and the cultural landscape of the country.
I feel privileged and lucky to have found a special place to explore my identity as a leader for the growing Jewish young adult population in Baltimore and give back to the place I call home. It has been exciting and incredibly rewarding to see our events bring people together from all backgrounds, and I look forward to continuing to learn, lead and connect others with these experiences and with our community.