Thursday, June 28, 2012

Birthright: Just the Beginning

By Whitney Keeperman, Rockland Jewish Reporter 

For years I heard great things about Birthright Israel trips, and in 2010, my sister and I finally decided to apply. I had already finished college, but because of my ties to Rockland County (I work at our family business in Haverstraw), the luck of the draw paired us with Rabbi Dov Oliver, director of Hillel of Rockland.

When I spoke with Rabbi Dov on the phone, I knew I was in for quite an experience, as his passion for Judaism and Israel was obvious from the start. Although I was not raised religious by any means, I have always felt a deep connection to my heritage and have yearned to learn more. Never could I have imagined how enlightening my trip to Israel would be, and what long-lasting effects it would have.

Rabbi Dov and the other group leaders made my trip so memorable. The feeling I had stepping off the plane in Israel was indescribable. We were welcomed so warmly by everyone. I was overwhelmed by the sense of home in Israel and the sense of family in our group.

For some participants, the trip itself is a great adventure, but once they return to their “real life” they simply fall out of touch with their leaders and friends. My experience has been very different: my journey has continued.

Not only did I gain a lot through the trip itself, but I now have a devoted rabbi — and five dear friends in Dov, Shevy and their three daughters. I am so thankful for the Olivers and how much enthusiasm and light they have brought to my life.

Since returning home from Israel, I frequently visit them for Shabbat lunch, Hebrew lessons or just to hang out. Rabbi Dov organizes frequent Birthright alumni events throughout the year to bring our group back together and to keep Judaism and Israel close to our hearts. These events also give us an opportunity to meet people who went on other Birthright Israel trips and to broaden our social and career networks.

Since the trip I have begun to light Shabbat candles whenever I can. I have decided to date only Jewish men, because I want the future father of my children to share the culture that is so special to me. I am more conscience of the food I eat and try to follow a more kosher lifestyle. I have gained knowledge and answers to my many questions about Jewish traditions.

Perhaps the most life altering influence the trip has had on me has been in my decision to return to Israel for ten months to teach English. I am so excited about this next adventure in my life.