Op-ed: When my Faith met Birthright

Op-ed: When my Faith met Birthright

By Rachael Sverdlove

When I came to college, I started my conversion from Catholicism to Judaism. I grew up mainly Catholic, but I always felt a deep longing to learn more about my Jewish ancestry. Until I came to Northeastern, I was not in an environment in which I could discover myself spiritually. At first everything about my conversion was new and daunting, especially going to Shabbat when I didn’t know any Hebrew or the meaning behind most things. I kept looking for ways to educate myself on Judaism and what being Jewish meant to me. That’s when I heard about Birthright in the spring of my freshman year.

When I first applied, I was declined acceptance due to my Catholic past. To say that I was crushed is an understatement. I felt as though I would never be fully accepted in the Jewish community. Thankfully, the Hillel staff encouraged me to apply again the following year, and I was granted a spot on the May 2017 trip.

Going into Birthright, I felt a mixture of excitement and nervousness. Everyone always talks about how much they loved their trip and how awesome it was, calling it life-changing, but no one could ever give me a sound reason why they loved it so much. While the two days of travel weren’t great, I quickly learned that everyone I had talked to about Birthright was right.

This was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that forever changed me. From eating s’mores in the Negev Desert to shopping in Tel Aviv, everything about Israel impacted me. The most precious memory I have from Birthright, though, is Jerusalem. It was there that I fully embraced my heritage. I had struggled with the idea of having a bat mitzvah for years; the idea terrified me. Thankfully, the friends I had made on that trip were incredibly supportive, and I finally had the courage to make the decision to have my bat mitzvah in front of the Western Wall. Even though the process was very informal, it will forever symbolize the day I embraced my Jewish identity.

When choosing a Hebrew name, I decided to adopt the name Devorah, which means “bee.” Bees live in massive communities, supporting and helping each other. All of my life, I yearned to find a way to join the Jewish community and fully accept myself. After years of searching, I finally felt welcomed into a world I once struggled to belong to.

I also took the name Devorah in honor of my mother, who originally gave it to me as a middle name. Even though we no longer practice the same faith, and I had not told her I was making a Bat mitzvah, I wanted to include her in my conversion. I even wrote a letter to her and placed it between the stones of the Wall.

Looking back on it, I’m very thankful that I was declined this opportunity at first. I cannot imagine being on that trip with a different group of people; the friends I made will be with me forever. Birthright gave me the ability to truly discover who I am, and it opened up numerous opportunities. If anyone wants to discover how Judaism fits in their life, religious or not, I promise that Birthright will change your life.

Rachael Sverdlove is a second year pursuing a biology degree with a pre-med track.

Photo courtesy Rachael Sverdlove

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