Taglit-Birthright Israel is all about connecting: with Israel, with the Jewish community, with fellow Jewish students.
On their recent Taglit-Birthright Israel trip with the University of Florida Hillel, students Jeremy Dictor and Andrea James made a profound connection while at Massada: They became engaged.
Watch the moment unfold:
Jeremy and Andrea, sophomores at UF, have been dating for six years, since their freshman year at a Sarasota high school. They have been active leaders in Hillel and are team leaders for Shabbat and holidays.
During the trip, several UF students celebrated an adult bar mitzvah ceremony. Senior Carly Blustein wrote the following in honor of her bat mitzvah event.
Before attending Birthright, I observed Jewish holidays on an irregular basis and usually only in large family gatherings. When my grandparents passed away, the traditions stopped altogether except for social gatherings with my Jewish friends. I viewed Taglit as a marvelous opportunity to travel to Israel, the historical backdrop of my Jewish heritage. But I did not understand just where I was going until I got here.
Until I watched a sunrise over Masada.
Until I learned about the Jews' current struggle in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Until I dipped my toe in the crystal blue water of the Mediterranean Sea.
Until I boarded a camel in the Negev Desert.
Until I had a semi-Hebrew conversation with an Israeli soldierâ€¦ who is one of my peers.
Until I packed the walls of the Kotel because I realized I had much more to say to God than I thought.
Until I could not keep a dry eye at Yad Vashem.
Until I put my sneakers next to the shoes of the Holocaust victims and felt a heightened connection to their memories and experiences.
Until I saw the empty shelves in the archives and imagined that one or more of those lost names could be that of my relativesâ€¦ my ancestors.
Until I lit the Shabbat candle and felt maybe like I belong in this religious rite, for the first time.
Now that I am a bat mitzvah, I know do belong here. When I return home, I will bring back with me -- tacky souvenirs, loads of dirty laundry, and 50 new friends -- but most of all, a much deeper understanding and awareness of the Judaism in my past and in my heart.