Elijah Muhlendorf’s Journey with the Simon Family Passport to Israel

Travel can transform perspectives and connect cultures, and the Simon Family Passport to Israel Fund, housed at Tidewater Jewish Foundation (TJF), supports Jewish students’ educational and cultural enrichment, fostering a deeper connection to their heritage and community. The fund has proven to be a gateway to life-altering experiences for young Jewish individuals like Elijah Muhlendorf.

Elijah’s long-awaited trip to Israel was a dream come true, a journey initially planned for his bar mitzvah but postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. His participation in the program, which included a session at Sababa Beach Camps and a BBYO Passport trip, was a transformative experience, one that profoundly impacted his understanding of his Jewish identity and the broader Jewish community.

From the onset, Elijah’s trip was about building connections. Despite arriving in Israel knowing only two people, he quickly formed bonds with his travel group of 40 diverse individuals, sharing the common thread of their Jewish faith. “This experience of traveling with other teens connected us quickly,” Elijah reflects. “Being Jewish defines who I am, and in Israel, I felt part of the majority for the first time.”

His journey was not just about exploring Jewish heritage but also about appreciating cultural diversity. From the serene Baha’i gardens in Haifa to the quiet desert night with the Bedouins near the Dead Sea, each experience enriched his understanding of the region’s diverse cultural fabric. The visit to Sidnyanna of Galilee, where Jewish and Arab women worked together to produce olive oil, was particularly impactful. “It was inspiring to see how they work together,” Elijah recalls.

One unexpected souvenir from his trip was a jellyfish sting, leaving a small scar – a physical reminder of his adventure and a story he will undoubtedly share for years to come.

Elijah’s journey to Israel was more than a trip; it was a journey of discovery, connection, and personal growth. “Israel is a special place, and I am grateful for the experience. It has given me a new perspective on my place in the Jewish community and the world,” he concludes.

The Simon Family Passport to Israel Fund continues to strengthen the ties of young Jewish individuals to their heritage, culture, and community, nurturing a deeper understanding and appreciation that will last a lifetime.

This article was first featured in the Tidewater Jewish Foundation's 2023 Annual Impact Report. Read more from the report here.