Planting a tree in Israel.

Becoming Bat Mitzvah on Birthright

Seven years ago I went on my birthright trip, and it changed my life. I was a freshman in college when I spontaneously decided to spend my winter vacation in Israel—ten days exploring the Holy Land with a group of thirty-nine students, an opportunity made possible by Taglit Birthright Israel Hillel. Wide-eyed and out of the country without my parents for the first time, I was ready for my first adventure of a lifetime. But it was so much more than that. To be honest I don’t remember a lot from those ten days. But there is one memory that will always stay with me: the day I chose my Hebrew name—Leah—and became a Bat Mitzvah (a Jewish woman).

I remember being so excited that I was going to be the first of my siblings to go through the ceremony of becoming a Jewish woman. I remember being so exhausted from the nine days of activities. I remember being at a complete loss for words right up until it was my turn to stand up and give s speech about what this ceremony meant to me. Somehow, in the last moments before I stood in front of the group, it came to me. I wrote it down before it flew out of my head. And now seven years later, on the anniversary of my Bat Mitzvah, I would like to share one of my favorite memories: the moment I became a Jewish woman.

January 5, 2013

At the beginning of this trip, ten days ago, we got off the plane and onto bus 1038 for the first time. Before doing anything else, Peter, our fantastic tour guide, welcomed us home. Right after I heard the two words—”welcome home”—I turned to Erika and I told her what it meant to me to be able to come to Israel. I remember saying I was excited to share this experience with such amazing people. I remember saying that I was so ready to explore such a beautiful country. I remember saying I was happy to be home.

But I never thought this trip would be this spectacular. Birthright brought me so many special moments that I will treasure forever. And as I stand here today, about to become a Jewish woman, officially, after ten long, exhausting, emotional days with Sharon, Peter, and some guy named Paul, I know this won’t be my last time in Israel. Tomorrow I will leave Israel, but I am taking a part of it home with me, the memories.

I know one day I will come back home. I will climb Mt. Masada, swim in the Dead Sea, go wine tasting, and walk through the Old City. I know I will once again breath in this incredible land. But it won’t be the same. Nothing will ever quite be like this first experience in the Holy Land. It won’t be the same because you all won’t be here with me. Even so, no matter how many years go by and how many trips home I make, I will always remember this one, my first one: the one with so many laughs, so many extraordinary moments, and so many incredible people. Thank you all for making my first trip home so completely unforgettable.

Planting a tree in Israel.
Planting a tree in Israel.

Unit next time,

Leah Pinkus

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