Meet Alex: Planting the Seed of Judaism

Tags: Israel, Overseas, Young Adults

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Meet Alex

The path of discovering Judaism for Alex Sweeney of Mentor began as a child. “I really didn’t have a Jewish identity; we celebrated some holidays, but it wasn’t anything consistent. My grandfather always talked about being Jewish. I remember learning about the Holocaust, but not thinking that really happened to my people.”

It wasn’t until Alex’s grandfather passed away that his Jewish identity began to blossom and he discovered the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. “At Shiva, my cousin said something about her recent Birthright trip – 10 days discovering all that is great about Israel. She had just been there and told me how amazing it is. After some thought, I decided to look into it. I realized this was my chance to keep my grandfather’s legacy going - and plant my own seed of Judaism.”

Alex visited Hillel at Cleveland State University and signed up for his own Birthright trip. As he discovered, Israel made more of an impact than he realized. “It wasn’t so much the religious aspect of Judaism that pulled me in, it was more the cultural – finally getting to see myself when I went to Israel for the first time. Looking at myself in the mirror, reflecting on everything, it was just incredible. You can’t put it into words, you just can’t. Israel has this emotional pull and those 10 days definitely did something to me.”

After returning home to Cleveland, Alex realized he wanted to discover more – more about Israel, more about his Judaism, more about himself. “I wanted to go back. Birthright changed me; it absolutely changed me. After years of not having a spirit of being Jewish, I got to finally see what Judaism meant to me. It was only 10 days, but seeing the pride of the country and listening to some of the stories, I wanted to know more.”

How the Campaign for Jewish Needs is Ensuring a Jewish Future

That is when Alex received an email about Onward Israel, an eight-week summer internship program supported by the Federation. He applied and was accepted with several young adults who had the privilege to live and work in Tel Aviv. “It was exactly what I wanted to do at the time. For the first time in my life, I met Jewish Clevelanders and Israelis my age, and finally had a chance to interact with them.”

It was also at that time that he inspired his brother to experience Birthright. “My brother has always done a lot for me, but this was something I was able to do for him. And I’ve seen how much of a better person he’s become because of his time in Israel. Our grandfather would also be proud knowing we’re exploring our Judaism; he was always proud of his identity. One of the most amazing experiences during my time on Onward was when I met up with my brother, who was also in Israel on his Birthright trip. We were 5000 miles from home and we ended up meeting in Israel. That was surreal to me, and just a small sample of what Jewish Cleveland has given to me.”

Alex came back to Cleveland and graduated from Cleveland State University. But once again, he realized he wanted to explore more of Israel. At a brunch at Cleveland’s Moishe House, Alex learned about the opportunity to attend an accelerated Master’s program with Masa Israel, a Federation-supported program through I-connect. Alex is now continuing his education at IDC Herzliya in Israel with a focus on Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution. “It’s a challenge, but I’m excited for it. I get to study with some of the world’s best students and obtain my Master’s degree in a year. While I’m there, I’ll also learn more about the history of Israel; it’s amazing, after everything the Jewish people have gone through that they were able to create a Jewish state.”

How You Can Help

Thanks to the support of the Campaign for Jewish Needs, we are ensuring a Jewish future for Alex and hundreds of other young adults in our community. “There are still things I learn every day, but I now have an identity. I am now a part of this community, the Jewish community, and that’s because of what the Jewish Federation and Jewish Cleveland has provided for me.”

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For more information on studying and working in Israel, contact Mirit Balkan at mbalkan@jcfcleve.org or 216-593-2921.

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