Since its inception in 1999, Taglit-Birthright Israel has sent more than 350,000 young Jews, ages 18-26, from around the world on free, 10-day group trips to the Jewish state. Like Melanie, many of them have never visited the country before. So Birthright plans action-packed itineraries that show off the beauty and history of Israel, from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to the Golan Heights and the Negev, from kibbutz tours to nights in a Bedouin tent.
“I’ll never forget my first Shabbat in Jerusalem,” Melanie reflects. “Our group walked towards the Western Wall as the sun was setting. We lit candles, said a blessing. Then a Russian tour group nearby began singing ‘Shalom Aleichem’ and we joined together with them. It really underscored to me the universal culture we all share in Judaism.”
Melanie also saw Federation dollars at work during a visit to a technology career training center for Ethiopian-Israelis, where trip participants talked with Ethiopian students about the opportunities and challenges they face. She also visited a Federation-supported rehabilitation center for people with physical disabilities, which has treated everyone from people with polio and cerebral palsy to injured IDF soldiers and victims of terrorist attacks.
Since returning from Israel, Melanie has volunteered with Federation in several capacities; attending and planning events, and plans to travel go on a Federation mission in the future.
“Federation’s work is to care for people in need, to inspire passion for Jewish life and learning and to strengthen communities around the world,” she says. “My Birthright trip really inspired my shared commitment to this role.”