Grandson's great Israel journey gives grandma hope, pride

At a “certain age,” most of us will become grandparents.
And then — we’re all proud of our grandchildren, aren’t we? Well, I’m so proud of grandson Robert that I’m letting him write this column for me! Of course he doesn’t know it, because what I’m going to do is quote extensively from his first email after he returned home from 10 days in Israel.
I’d heard many times before that a Birthright Israel trip could be a life-changer, but I didn’t know how much so until I received this message from Robert:
“Ten days ago, I left for Israel with no expectations of what I was getting into. Today, I came home with a new family, brothers and sisters in Israel, and an inconceivably changed perspective on so many things in the world. I have embraced my heritage. I have stood with soldiers younger than me, speaking of their friends, buried in a military cemetery, who died in combat as teenagers. I have walked the streets of Jerusalem, where thousands of years unfolded before my eyes.
“I have been immersed in the history of genocide, and have learned that my ancestors suffered and died because of it.
“I have seen firsthand the tension, destruction and sadness that is Israel, and I have learned that no matter what public opinion is, what politics and the media have presented to us, that Israel is an incredible nation with incredible human beings with passions and wants and needs the same as us. I hurt for them, and I want nothing more than to stand with them and see them thrive, and find their place in a world that still discriminates and persecutes based solely on belief.
“I have never been more proud to be Jewish. Thank you to everyone who helped make this experience what it was; you don’t know what you’ve done for me. And now I ask everyone to educate yourself. Read about Israel, how it came to be, how it survived incredible odds and is standing strong to this day. Read about the tribulations and slanders it still faces. Get the facts, and see how you might find a way to effect change. I don’t know yet how I’m going to do that, but I know that I need to…”
You should know that Robert is already 25, one of the oldest of the Birthrighters, a mature young man and — if I may speak as a proud grandma — a very good writer.
Of course his mother is Jewish, but his late father professed no religion at all. They raised Robert in a small city with minimal Jewish opportunities, either communal or educational; the family observed some holidays at home, but that was about the extent of it. But since his return from Israel, Robert has been asking me to send him things: When he requested a Torah, I assumed — correctly, I’m glad to say! — that he meant a book, not a scroll, and I promptly mailed a favorite Tikkun off to him.
Then he said he didn’t know enough about the holidays which were coming up quickly soon after his trip; so I sent a copy of Michael Strassfield’s large, comprehensive but easy-to-digest paperback titled, simply enough, Jewish Holidays, which was published four years before Robert was born. (But the basic truths of all our holidays haven’t really changed that much since 1985, have they?) And I’ve invited him to come here next year, if he can, to welcome in a Shanah Tovah 5777 with me.
A friend has warned me, rather cynically, to wait a few months before falling in love with the idea that Robert’s life has really changed just because of 10 Birthright days in Israel. But I’m not listening. I’m taking it at face value, and on faith, that my grandson has made me proud by permanently “converting,” with his new understandings, to the Judaism of his birth.

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