Samara Wolk

Strengthening my Judaism through Birthright Israel

Jerusalem, Israel

In May 2022, I visited Israel for the first time as a participant on a birthright Israel program. The ten-day trip to Israel visited historical and cultural destinations such as Jerusalem’s Old City, the Western Wall, Masada, the Dead Sea and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. We interacted with Israelis from all walks of life and had the opportunity to experience the beauty of Israel. We also learned about Israel’s history, culture, politics, contemporary issues, and Jewish heritage. The purpose of the trip is to provide participants with a life-changing experience that strengthens their ties to Israel and their Jewish identity.

I participated in this trip because I heard terrific experiences from my friends. However, after returning home to Canada, I noticed that I had created memorable experiences that strengthened my tie to Israel and my Jewish identity. I had the chance to learn about and appreciate the Jewish people’s diversity through various activities and interactions. 

I gained a broader appreciation of the variety of Jewish life, as I learned about the similarities that bind Jews worldwide by visiting historical places and discussing Jewish customs and values. I gained knowledge of the problems affecting Israel and the Jewish people when speaking to others. The ability to realize a different perspective and discuss solutions was a valuable conversation. 

On a sombre note, visiting Israel also served as a poignant reminder of the terrible effects of antisemitism on the Jewish people. The history of antisemitic persecution, genocide, and remembering or honouring the victims of the holocaust is vital. We learned about the several types of antisemitism today, such as hate speech, graffiti, violence, and prejudice. We discovered how antisemitism interacts with other forms of discrimination like racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia. Our journey has highlighted the values of activism and advocacy in battling antisemitism. We identified the different groups that fight antisemitism and advance tolerance in our understanding of Israel and worldwide. 

I recommend this trip to other people because, as a Jew, it allowed me to understand more about myself and my culture. I have learned how diverse Judaism is and how hardships have formed what it means to be Jewish today. Growing up, I attended a public school dominated by various cultures. People would often ask me about my background, and when I would say I was Jewish, they would dismiss it by countering that it was only a religious identity, but the Jewish people are a nation with a collective experience. Even now, one year later, those ten days in Israel have still allowed me to feel more connected to my identity and strengthen my understanding of what it means to be Jewish. Seeing Israel first-hand did more than combat the disinformation and lies spread by anti-Israel activists; it strengthened my resolve to advocate for a country that, while often maligned, is a symbol of what perseverance can achieve.

About the Author
Samara Wolk is a student at Queen’s University and an HonestReporting Canada Campus Media Fellow.
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