There and Back Again
Reflections on A Detroit Community Taglit-Birthright Experience
By Josh Michaels
My Taglit-Birthright experience could best be summed up in one way: life-changing.
I was 25 years old, approaching the cutoff for the Taglit-Birthright trip and—having moved home to Metro Detroit after college at Purdue University nearly three years ago—still having trouble finding my niche in the Jewish community. I didn’t do BBYO; I didn’t go to Tamarack; and I didn’t grow up in one of the largest Jewish communities in the United States either. Naturally, fitting in seemed a bit daunting. But, when the opportunity came to go on a Detroit-community Birthright trip with others between the ages of 22-26, I knew this was the moment I had been waiting for. As it turned out, my experience on Birthright wouldn’t have been the same had it not been with the Detroit community.
I went into the trip not knowing anyone personally. Upon my return, I know the bonds I made with the men and women on my trip will truly last a lifetime. Sure, I could’ve easily done a trip with a mixture of Jews my age from around the country and exposed myself to different people on a larger scope; however, having moved to Metro Detroit from Terre Haute, Indiana, this place felt like New York City! There were so many things to do: Royal Oak, Birmingham, West Bloomfield and a 25 minute drive to downtown, including Comerica Park. Indiana didn’t even have a baseball team! Most importantly, there was no Jewish presence like there is here. So I committed early on to remaining in Michigan and doing what I could to strengthen the Jewish community here in Metro Detroit. I now had brothers and sisters that I climbed Masada with, wept with at Yad Vashem, prayed with at the Kotel, and I didn’t even need a plane ticket to see them and reminisce. They were already in my backyard.
That’s what Birthright is about—building a stronger relationship, not only with yourself and Judaism, but with the people you share this commonality with on the trip, back home and all over the world. Even more so with the Israelis, who became brothers and sisters of ours after sharing this amazing experience. They opened their homes, hearts and homeland to us and treated us as one of their own. We returned this favor during Mifgash, when the Israelis visited Detroit months later. At home we had fallen back into our normal routines, but as soon as those Israelis came here, all of the emotions, memories and cherished moments came flooding back. Suddenly, I was back on Masada, wide-eyed at the snake’s path that awaited our descent, and floating in the Dead Sea with my Israeli and Detroit “family.”
It’s hard to imagine how the last three months would have been had I not taken the once in a lifetime opportunity to go on a Detroit Community trip. Clearly, a hole would be where my friends from the trip are—both here in Metro Detroit and in Israel. More than this, however, I wouldn’t have been as excited to get back here and go to Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit activities. Volunteering wouldn’t have been as much of a pleasure without having realized how much this community means to me. And I certainly wouldn’t have been able to say these last three months have been filled with amazing people and events that I couldn’t imagine not being part of my life today.
So, as the September 12th registration date for the winter Taglit-Birthright trip nears, I think how wonderful this opportunity is for people wishing to do something to help rebuild Detroit and strengthen our Jewish community here. By making lifelong connections and relationships with people here and welcoming Israelis from our Central Galilee partnership region, Detroit now has a young man who is committed to strengthening this community and making Detroit the great city it is. This Detroit-Community trip changed my life and now it is my turn to help it do the same thing for someone else.