How Birthright Changed My Photography

By Samantha Berlin

Seeing Israel behind an iPhone


The concept of a Birthright Israel trip is pretty self-explanatory to me: it serves as a Jewish American’s birthright to Israel. The educational tourism organization aims to strengthen the Jewish communities by supporting young adults to explore their Jewish identity and make lasting connections through a trip to Israel. I’m 21 and I haven’t been to the Temple since I was 16.

I’ve had a Bat Mitzvah, a coming of age ritual for girls, and attended Hebrew school and Sunday school with my siblings and cousins, but I was nervous to go to Israel. I didn’t want to be the least religious person there and, to be completely honest, I really didn’t want anything to do with organized religion at this point in my life. Despite it, my cousins and my brother had planned a trip in December of 2018, and I felt compelled to attend.

I expected this Birthright trip to be hyper-religious, kind of like the oversaturated YMCA summer camps I attended in middle school. However, the trip was spiritual, in a sense, but not in any way comparable to Christian summer camps. It prepared your mind for the inner dialogue you were bound to have seeing a country so captivating and colorful. I found myself seeing my culture and my family in a different way, behind a lens. Granted, all of these photos were taken on my iPhone, taking that moment to stop while walking on the sidewalk to snap that picture is a different way of seeing. It’s about taking that moment and basking in it.

“It prepared your mind for the inner dialogue you were bound to have seeing a country so captivating and colorful.”

Birthright Israel is fully funded by private donors, the Israeli government, American Jewish communities and the local Jewish communities. Applicants must undergo an interview, write a short essay talking about their Jewish identity and give further explanation as to why they want to join a Birthright trip. (More information at

Samantha Berlin is a junior studying magazine at Syracuse University.