Birthright: to Israel and back in 10 days

A week ago, as I stood on a promenade overlooking the majestic city of Jerusalem, I, Aaron Matthew Bloom, received a Hebrew name.

I expressed my thoughts and feelings on my Jewish identity to a circle of 40 other IU students. As I looked out over the city and at my peers that morning, I felt in my mind and heart that I was in the right place. I was at home. I belonged.

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My trip to Israel over winter break changed my life.

For 10 days, I joined a group of 40 students to travel throughout the country of Israel. Our group was assembled by IU’s Helene G. Simon Hillel Center and funded by the Taglit-Birthright Israel organization.

Taglit-Birthright provides an all-expenses-paid 10-day adventure to Israel for young Jewish people. Founded on the principle that a trip to Israel is a building block of Jewish identity, Taglit-Birthright Israel has sent more than 350,000 Jewish young adults to Israel since 1999.

After a 10-hour flight from New York, more than 1,000 young Jews from across the United States arrived in Tel Aviv on Dec. 29. For some of the group, it was our first time leaving the United States, for others, it was their third or fourth time visiting Israel. Israeli flags waved as we walked through customs. In the airport, a tribe of drummers and tables lined with delicious bread, fruit and pastries greeted us. Our trip had officially begun.

It was my first time leaving the U.S., and it changed the way I view the world and foreign cultures.

I rode a jeep across the rugged hills of the northern Golan Heights, ate my way through the Shuk markets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and piggy-backed on a camel through the desert — all while strengthening my relationship with IU’s Jewish community, and gaining a few pounds.

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Before this trip, I felt disconnected with my Jewish heritage. Few of my friends at IU were Jews, and I hadn’t gone to temple in more than a year. I lacked a sense of identity.

After connecting with dozens of other Jewish students on this trip, I feel accepted in the thriving community here in Bloomington.

The morning I received my Hebrew name, on the promenade, I chose the Hebrew name Shalom Yaron: Shalom meaning “peace,” and Yaron meaning “he will sing.”

One’s Hebrew name represents the keystone of their Jewish identity. It embodies a person’s individual character and personality.

We all face struggles whether through school, family or love. I feel as though I’ve reached a point in my life where my mind is at peace. I’m at peace with the challenges and hardships I’ve faced in the past few years, and now I want to help others through their struggles.

Ten days was not enough for me. I didn’t want to leave Israel, even though spring semester classes were starting.

The 40 strangers I traveled with became my family. The conversations, adventures and experiences we shared exceeded my expectations and changed me. I found myself smiling more and no longer taking my culture and faith for granted.

Taglit-Birthright is a special opportunity. If you are eligible for the trip to Israel, take it. It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, one that I will never forget.

Feel free to email me any questions about my trip or Taglit-Birthright at — I haven’t been able to stop talking about it since I got home.

I hope to see you next time I’m in Israel, because I’m definitely going back.

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