Before I came to Israel, I really had no connection with the Jewish side of myself. My family celebrated Rosh Hashannah and Hanukkah growing up, and I could recite the basic prayers, had been to shul, but I never really understood what all of it meant. It never really held any meaning or significance for me, and simply put I just didn't get whatever IT was. Didn't know why it was so important to identify with my faith. If you had asked me a month ago whether I planned to get Bat Mitzvahed on Birthright, I would have shaken my head and told you I had no reason to. In fact, on this trip I didn't even make the decision until 2 days ago, giving me 48 hours to prepare for the ceremony.
A huge turning point in the trip for me was our group's visit to Mt. Hertzl. At the military cemetery, Akiva--one of the IDF soldiers that joined us on the trip--stood in front of an adorned grave and shared with us the story of one of his best friends who died in combat. His story was incredibly powerful, and I couldn't help but place myself in their shoes. I'm 22. I'm preparing to graduate from UVA, searching for a job, planning out where I might want to travel, and just generally doing what a 22 year old does. And at the same time, the friends that we've been making in Israel that are the exact same age are out at the front lines of combat fighting for their country and dying every day. And they do it voluntarily, gladly, so that Jews everywhere can have a place to call home. So that we can all have this homeland, this territory, this safe space where we can simply be with one another. And that, to me, is an incredibly powerful thing. But it's not anything new. For years, Jews have been fighting to have a place to call our own, to practice our faith and traditions free from discrimination and hatred. To me, continuing to reject that history, to distance myself from something that so many people have died for would do a huge disservice to Jews and allies everywhere.
So I decided to get Bat Mitzvahed today because I eventually came to the realization that I am a product of the people who have fought for me in the past, who are fighting for me today, and who will continue to fight for me--for us. That is a tradition that I personally feel an obligation to carry forward. This trip is the first time in my life that I have actually felt Jewish, and I am extremely proud to be. I am proud to be part of this amazing community, this culture, this religion.
While I still have a long way to go in my Jewish journey, today's ceremony was my public affirmation that I could not be prouder to be part of the Jewish community and will continue to learn and grow within the tradition, sharing it with others along the way.