You should know … Tyler Scheff


Birthright Israel has made news of late due to talk of tight finances and new limits on participant numbers. While the organization grapples with budgets and funds, those who have taken the trips remain the best spokespeople for the program, which sends young Jews to Israel for 10-day tours at no cost to them.


One of those Birthright-goers is Tyler Scheff, now 32. In fact, he enjoyed it so much that he went back this month as part of Onward, a second peer experience in Israel, basically a Birthright follow-up program.

Scheff was born and raised in Baltimore, and has lived in the city his whole life. He has two half-siblings: a younger sister, Sydney, and an older brother, Jared. Growing up, he did not attend Hebrew school or a synagogue.

But, he says, “I remember as a kid seeing all my family explaining the importance of being Jewish and why we do the things that we do, even if I didn’t fully understand it. I would read prayers in Hebrew transliteration, not knowing what I was saying, but they always took the time to explain to me what I was saying and highlight the importance of these traditions. My favorite food was my Aunt Marsye’s matzah-ball soup. Tastes like home.”

Scheff graduated from Towson University, where he earned both an undergraduate degree in communication studies and a graduate degree in communications management.
Today, he works in marketing at a hospital full-time, but also has his own business in film and photography for weddings and events.

The interview below was released internationally, timed to Thanksgiving Day on Nov. 24 and “Giving Tuesday” on Nov. 29.

What inspired you to sign up for a Birthright trip?
It’s not necessarily what inspired me, but who. My mother has always pushed me since I was of age to go on a Birthright Israel trip, but I always brushed it off because I didn’t think I was Jewish enough. Every year, she would ask me, “Did you sign up for Birthright this year?” My brother, his wife and a lot of my friends have all gone and said nothing but amazing things about it, but I wasn’t fully convinced that this was a trip that was for me. After I passed the cutoff age, I thought, oh well, I wasn’t meant to go on the trip anyways until they raised the age to 32, and I saw that as a sign. Again, my mother told me, “What have you got to lose by going,” and she was right. I had nothing to lose. So I applied and was accepted to participate in the program.

Did you have any preconceived notions prior to going to Israel?
I knew very little about Israel in general. I knew about the Israel Defense Forces and having to serve in the military, the Iron Dome missile-defense system and some of the history, but I never did too much studying. I hadn’t been there, so it would have been wrong for me to make any sort of assumption or guess. But based on what people told me about Birthright Israel and their experience, it was a place that I had to visit.

What was your biggest takeaway from the trip?
I think it was how many other people were in the same exact position as me of not feeling Jewish enough and how many lifelong friends I made. I fell out of a lot of Jewish practices as I got older and wasn’t closely connected to a Jewish community back home, but now I know and feel like I have family all over the world. A lot of times, I would joke that I was Jew-“ish,” but now I tell people and am proud to say that I am Jewish, which is really cool. I feel like I am a part of something important, and I can find peace in that.

What surprised you most about Israel?
How lively and wonderful of a country it was! Everyone there was so nice and welcoming, and I never felt unsafe or unwelcome, no matter where we went. I now have some of my closest friends who live in Israel, and we still talk almost every day seven months later. (I’m back seeing some of them as part of Onward.)

If you could meet the donor who made your trip possible, what would you say to them?
If I could hug them, I would. I’ve traveled to a lot of countries all over the world, but this trip has really opened up my mind and soul in ways that others haven’t. There’s nothing that I could say or do that would be able to thank them enough for the amazing opportunity that they not only gave me, but everyone else I got to be on the experience with. A simple thank you, I feel, wouldn’t be enough.

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