This summer, Lexi Kriss went on Birthright, a free, 10-day educational trip to Israel, thanks in part to support from CJP. When asked to describe the impact of this trip, she used words (in italics below) suggested by her fellow travelers in this lyrical essay on discovering Israel and a renewed sense of her Jewish identity. 

Awakening. Shooting stars cascading across Negev desert skies beckon Birthrighters to make wishes. I had never seen the Milky Way show off so humbly.

What if I hadn’t gone on this trip? With these people? At this time?

Before attending Brandeis, Judaism never meant Israel to me. Now, at 27, I feel like those very stars were pulling me toward a country that I now love for all its beauty and its complexities.

Those desert stars made me feel anything was possible. I saw an artist inspired by Kabbalah in Safed who went to university for a year in my hometown. I looked out over the Gaza strip standing next to Israeli soldiers. I dined in Sderot. I saw the Syrian border in the distance. It’s impossible not to wonder if fate had a hand in my Israeli adventures.

How do stars align to bring people together, to question ideologies, to discover their religious and cultural heritages? Perhaps the beauty is in the unknown. Near the end of our trip, a member of our group said that she couldn’t imagine going on Birthright with any other group of people. Destiny? Life-changing.

Aside from new friendships that are a bridge from my Jewish community in Providence to the scene in Boston, our travels reaffirm my want to make a positive difference in my daily life.

It is the search for truth and connectedness over social justice pursuits that makes me feel pride in the collective identity we built as a group and developed as members of a larger community. I hope to get more involved in the Jewish community in New England, from volunteering to hosting Shabbat dinners.

What does this mean now that I’m home? When I book guests for the show I produce, write news stories, or even debate with colleagues, I will take pause knowing where I have stood and what I have seen. In the lunchroom at work or at weekend farmer’s markets, I find myself encouraging my Jewish friends not miss their chance; to go on Birthright.

My self-perception was that I would travel to Israel once and not need to return. That belief is evolving as I have learned the Hebrew language does too. I was promised that I would return to the United States with more questions than answers. I can tell you this: I feel lucky and alive. I have a renewed curiosity to understand my Jewish identity and a thirst for healthy dialogue.