As told to Alexandra Goldberg, writer for the Hillel International Writers Program.
“I am Jewish, queer, and Mexican. So often, trying to hold all three of these identities at once is challenging. But I didn’t have to try when I went on the queer Birthright Israel trip with Hillel International. I was able to embrace and celebrate every part of myself.
“One of my favorite moments from that trip was visiting the Western Wall. I wore a Star of David necklace with rainbow rhinestones, a gift from one of my close friends. I draped a Jewish-Israeli rainbow flag on my back and prayed. The flag was originally a tallit, a Jewish prayer shawl that you wrap around yourself during services. I felt so proud of my identities, and I realized I could play a role in helping other Jewish students embrace their intersectionality.
“When I returned to campus, I began organizing art events and holiday celebrations to encourage students, especially Jews of color, to share their own stories and traditions at Hillel. I helped promote a virtual rainbow tour of Tel Aviv to encourage queer representation, and I’m starting to help plan a Pesach event with different seder plates to recognize the origins of each Hillel student. We know Jews come from all over the world. We all practice Judaism differently, but regardless, we’re all a part of the same community. As a leader at Santa Barbara Hillel, I’m trying to help each student celebrate every part of their identity. Every part of who we are makes us whole.” — Alex Valdez, University of California, Santa Barbara